When Nostalgia Isn’t Defined – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia, creativity and gaps in popular culture, I’m going to have to spend the next 3-4 paragraphs talking about music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A day or two before I wrote this article, I was clearing part of my room when I happened to find a CD that I’d forgotten that I even had. It was a free music CD that had been attached to the March 2006 issue of “Metal Hammer” magazine.

Although I was initially pleasantly surprised to discover that it contained “Cyanide” by Deathstars (a song that really reminds me a lot of 2008/9), I listened to a few of the other tracks out of curiosity and, although I didn’t know or remember any of them, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a song called “The Last Sunrise” by Aiden and it was the absolute epitome of mid-2000s heavy metal. With a mixture of clean vocals, emo-style vocals (that almost have a whiny early 2000s-style pop-punk quality to them) and shouty vocals, it couldn’t have come from any other era in history.

Even the intense, but sharp, guitar parts of the song sound very much like something from this part of history. Likewise, the emotional angst-filled lyrics are also very mid-2000s. I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly nostalgic about the mid-2000s (of all times) just by listening to a song I didn’t remember.

But, as you can probably tell from the convoluted description in the previous paragraph, the vocabulary for describing and defining mid-2000s nostalgia doesn’t really exist yet.

I mean, if I was to talk about – say- 1990s Hollywood movies, then I could talk at length about the chiaroscuro lighting that was popular back then. Or I could talk about how being made between the end of the cold war and before 9/11 gave these films an optimistic emotional tone that can’t be replicated today.

I could probably talk about how the fact that the internet was less widely-used back then affected the stories films told. I could probably talk about how the larger number of mid-budget films back then was beneficial to popular culture (and how smaller-scale stories can often be more dramatic than larger-scale ones). I could probably go on for a while.

But, when talking about something as simple as a song from 2006, I’m forced to use convoluted descriptions that may or may not make sense. Yes, I know what sets heavy metal music from the mid-2000s apart from heavy metal from other parts of history. But, finding a way to express that knowledge is somewhat more challenging because popular nostalgia hasn’t really caught up to this time period yet (eg: there’s usually at least a 20 year gap when it comes to nostalgia becoming popular).

So, what is the best thing to do if you’re a creative person who wants to express a type of nostalgia that hasn’t really been explored in popular culture?

Well, the first thing to do is to try to work out which qualities make something from a non-nostalgic period of the past so distinctive. Use your memories, do some online research, look at examples of things from that time etc.. and try to work out what they have in common. Or, failing that, find some creative works from the time period in question and take inspiration from them.

Even if you can’t concisely express what makes things from a particular time period unique, gaining a greater knowledge of it (through research and thought) will help you to find less direct ways to express this particular quality (eg: the way you describe locations, your characters’ personalities etc..).

If you’re an artist, then you have an advantage here, since you can try to replicate the “look” of a particular period of history, even if you can’t quite find the words to articulate what makes it do distinctive. For example, here are two paintings of mine that are based on a stylised version of the early-mid 2000s:

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Finding ways to turn nostalgia that isn’t widely shared into art, fiction etc.. can be a bit of a challenge. And, you probably aren’t going to get it right the first time. Still, it’s certainly worth trying nonetheless.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Finding Good Things In The Mainstream – A Ramble

Although I sometimes take a somewhat cynical view of modern “mainstream” culture, I had a rather interesting experience that made me think about it in a slightly different way.

This was mostly because, during a nostalgic moment, I remembered that there was a brief period during the late 2000s/early 2010s when modern British pop music was actually really good.

In 2009-11, La Roux had released songs like “Bulletproof”, “In For The Kill” and “Tigerlily”. Tinie Tempah had released songs like “Pass Out” and “Written In The Stars”. Ellie Goulding put out a song called “Guns And Horses”, Clare Maguire put out a song called “Ain’t Nobody”, Jessie J released “Do It Like A Dude” and Mini Viva released “Left My Heart In Tokyo”. For a couple of years, modern mainstream pop music here was actually worth listening to.

Despite the fact that modern mainstream culture is often eye-rollingly terrible, it does contain good things. Although lots of them rarely appear at once (eg: the only other recent example I can think of is how both a remake of “Ghost In The Shell” and a sequel to “Blade Runner” were released in 2017) and some even have high barriers to entry (eg: system requirements for modern “AAA” computer games etc..), they are certainly there. Not to mention that many of the old things from the 1980s and 1990s that I love so much were probably at least slightly “mainstream” when they were originally released.

Yet, finding good things in the mainstream is often either a rare surprise or more like panning for gold. This is, of course, why “mainstream” stuff from the past often tends to be far better than modern mainstream stuff. Leaving aside the awesome historical nostalgia in many “mainstream” 1990s TV shows, movies etc… History usually has a habit of ensuring that only the best things are remembered.

Although this isn’t perfect – since contemporary classics (like “The Matrix” or “Half-Life) can overshadow other good things in the same genre released at the same time – history does serve as a very good quality filter for “mainstream” things.

So, one of the best ways to find good things in the mainstream is simply to either wait a few years or to look at things that were mainstream a couple of decades ago. Generally, if something has stood the test of time, then this is usually a good sign.

But, often the best way to find good things in the mainstream is just to trust your own instincts. If something sounds like it could be good, then check it out (when the price has gone down a bit) and see how you react to it. I mean, some “mainstream” authors that I really like include Lee Child, J.K.Rowling, G.R.R Martin and Dan Brown. Yes, their popularity was the thing that first introduced me to their novels, but it was the quality and/or enjoyability of their work that kept me interested.

So, let your own quality standards be your guide (instead of advertising or whether something is “popular” or not).

Because, yes, sometimes good things become popular. Sometimes they don’t. Although there are a lot of criticisms to be made of the mainstream, the fact remains that there are occasionally good things that can be found there.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Review: “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” By Cradle Of Filth (Album)

Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, this title illustration was made before I reviewed Judas Priest’s latest album about a month and a half ago.

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a heavy metal album that I’d meant to get over seven years ago but only finally got round to buying a while before I wrote this review. I am, of course talking about “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” by Cradle Of Filth.

This album by the venerable heavy metal/ symphonic black metal/ gothic metal band was originally released in late 2010. I actually remember this quite well since the band took the unusual step of giving out free MP3 copies of the song “Lilith Immaculate” on their website at the time.

This track really bowled me over, although I couldn’t afford to get the full album at the time. I then pretty much forgot about the album (apart from checking out another couple of songs on Youtube) until I noticed that it had come down in price and was able to snap up a second-hand copy on Amazon for about three quid.

One of the first things that I will say about this album is that it is very much it’s own distinctive thing. It mostly eschews the grandiose fire and brimstone drama of 2008’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder“, but it is also a far cry from the decadent De Sade-ian opulence of 2012’s “The Manticore And Other Horrors“. This album is a lot “colder”, more melodic and more gothic. And, it is probably one of the best Cradle albums that I’ve heard. Seriously, it’s almost up there with classic albums like “Cruelty And The Beast” and “Nymphetamine”.

“Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is a concept album about the mythological character Lilith. However, it also focuses on a tragic character called Victoria Varco, a 14th century noblewoman who bears an illegitimate child and suffers unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the church because of this. This eventually leads to her having visions of Lilith (and possibly being possessed by Lilith’s spirit), before being brutally murdered by the church’s torturers.

She is then exhumed by her grief-stricken lover, Isaac, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Heathcliff and Cathy from Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights“. The later parts of the album focus both on Lilith herself and on Isaac’s memories of meeting her through Victoria.

The final song ends with a mildly Lovecraftian flutter, with Isaac saying: “…These words I speak are gates to hell“, evoking the ‘last words’ narrative device used in many of H.P. Lovecraft‘s short stories. In addition to this, it is also a repetition of an early verse from the first song on the album. This gives the album an intriguingly circular storyline, which also hints strongly at a Lovecraft-style unreliable narrator.

And, yes, this album actually has a continuous story. However, this actually harms the album’s lyrics very slightly. Whilst I’ve written before about how Cradle Of Filth songs are basically old-school poetry in disguise, the lyrics in “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” often read more like a historical ballad of some kind.

Whilst the lyrics still contain a fair number of poetic flourishes (eg: “By flights of morbid fancy/ Psychomancy, rites of ancient wrong”), the focus on storytelling means that the lyrics are often a little bit more “functional” and can occasionally lack some of the dark eloquence of Cradle’s other albums.

But, enough literary criticism. What about how this album actually sounds?

Well, for the most part, it sounds like Cradle Of Filth. However, unlike some of their albums, this one has quite a few melodic elements, such as a vaguely harpsichord-like segment at the beginning of the first song in addition to other creepily gothic string and keyboard segments throughout the album. These go really well with the more intense guitar segments, which often sound more like a “heavier” version of traditional heavy metal. Personally, I really love all of these melodic elements, but more “traditionalist” fans of the band might not like them.

Likewise, despite the occasional well-placed death growl from Dani Filth, his fast-paced and guttural singing in this album is considerably more understandable than in some previous albums. As much as I love Dani’s older vocal style, his more modern style certainly has merit too.

Plus, like in many of Cradle’s albums, Dani’s harsh vocals are counterpointed by more elegant female vocals. In “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa”, these are provided by Lucy Atkins (and Dora Kemp).

Like with some of Sarah Jezebel Deva’s vocal segments in “Cruelty And The Beast”, Atkins speaks rather than sings. This lends the character of Lilith a stern, cold gravitas that goes really well with Dani’s more emotional vocals.

The best songs on the album are probably “The Persecution Song”, “Deceiving Eyes”, “Lilith Immaculate”, “Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” and “Beyond Eleventh Hour”.

“The Persecution Song” begins with a beautifully haunting instrumental segment, which manages to be both creepily cold and reminiscent of the warm lushness of Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album. Dani’s vocals near the beginning of the song are noticeably slower too, which helps to add to the oppressively gothic atmosphere.

Musically, the song is dark, intense and overwhelmingly powerful. Vocally, Dani alternates between several singing styles (eg: slower singing, emotional growling, ominous whispering etc..) which helps to add to the surprising array of musical variety within this song. Seriously, it is one of the most atmospheric songs on the album.

“Deceiving Eyes” has some really intriguing hints of both thrash metal and traditional heavy metal. Although it is mostly just a fairly solid Cradle Of Filth song, these extra musical elements really help to turn it into something a bit more distinctive.

“Lilith Immaculate” is a fast, powerful, opulent and intense song. The opening instrumental is vaguely reminiscent of something from “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder”, but, as soon as Dani begins howling, you’ll remember that this is a very different album. This song is something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins, and it is brilliant! It is filled with dramatic descriptions and powerful emotion. If it wasn’t for the fact that this song tells a later part of the album’s story, it would have been a perfect opening song.

“Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” is a slightly lighter, faster and more “goth”-like song. The opening segments of it are something of a palate cleanser from the heavier and more intense songs earlier in the album. Likewise, the guitars sound a little bit less distorted here, which lends the song a very distinctive sound. Like with “Lilith Immaculate”, it is also something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins – which is always cool to hear.

“Beyond Eleventh Hour” is the stunningly opulent ending to the album. It begins in a creepily understated way, with quiet keyboard music and some poetic vocals from Atkins. But, it quickly builds to a spectacularly dramatic climax soon after Atkins intones the words “…and hell will come with him”.

The lyrics in this intense and dramatic song also contain a few gloriously obscene “classic Cradle Of Filth”-style flourishes too. This song is Cradle at their most eloquent, poetic, debauched, blasphemous best! At one point, there’s even some vaguely horror movie-style cackling in the background too πŸ™‚

All in all, “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is one of Cradle Of Filth’s best albums. It’s a cold, heavily atmospheric, furiously intense and creepily gothic album. Yes, it isn’t quite their best album in purely lyrical terms but – musically – it is absolutely stunning. Like with all great metal bands, this album manages to be both the kind of unique thing that only one band could make whilst also being noticeably different from both previous and subsequent albums.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Three Other Things That Heavy Metal Music Can Teach Creative People

Although I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before, I thought that I’d return to the subject of what heavy metal music can teach creative people. This is mostly since I seem to be going through another phase of listening to even more metal than usual (mostly songs by Cradle Of Filth this time round).

So, what else can heavy metal teach creative people?

1) Sophistication (appears in unlikely places): Believe it or not, modern heavy metal is one of the most complex and sophisticated genres of music out there. Since I’m going through a bit of a Cradle Of Filth phase at the moment, I’ll use this band as an example.

At first glance, they don’t really look like a “sophisticated” band – mostly due to the zombie make-up, the borderline-incomprehensible shouted vocals and the fact that some of their songs have “shock value” lyrics.

But, although I’ve already written about how their lyrics are basically old-school poetry in disguise, they are sophisticated in so many other ways too. At least a couple of their albums (eg: “Cruelty And The Beast”, “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” etc..) are concept albums based on various obscure parts of European history.

Not only that, if you listen to the instrumental parts of many of their songs (especially their stuff from the late 1990s/early-mid 2000s onwards), you’ll notice that it can almost sound like a heavier version of classical music of some kind sometimes. Their music videos usually tell a story of some kind or another, and frequently look like small self-contained gothic horror movies.

Especially in the present day, heavy metal is a very sophisticated genre (just listen to Nightwish or most songs by Iron Maiden if you don’t believe me). Yet, there’s surprisingly little pretentiousness surrounding it. Heavy metal bands do all of this amazingly complex and sophisticated stuff, yet metal is one of the most welcoming, generation-neutral (eg: some metal bands are in their 20s, some are in their 60s etc..) and unpretentious musical subcultures out there.

So, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it all has to do with letting your work speak for itself. It is about putting substance over style. It is about the importance of skills and practice, rather than trying to become popular for the sake of it. It’s about building up a fanbase because of the quality of your work rather than “being famous for being famous”.

2) Personality: One cool thing about metal bands is that they each have their own unique personalities and sensibilities. Even when they seem slightly similar, they are still unique in different ways. You can usually tell two metal bands apart from each other just by listening to the way that they play their instruments, write their own songs etc… (Seriously, I cannot overstate the “write their own songs” part enough!)

Even bands within the same sub-genre of metal who have had members in common with each other (such as Gamma Ray and Helloween) are very distinctive. For example, Gamma Ray’s music tends to be a lot louder, slightly slower and more intense, whereas Helloween’s music tends to be slightly lighter, faster and more horror/fantasy-themed. The two bands still sound like they are related to each other, but they also sound different to each other too.

So, again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it is all to do with the value of developing a unique and recognisable style. This is something which is typically developed by taking inspiration from a unique mixture of things that you consider to be “cool”. It also involves, amongst other things, looking for what these “cool” things have in common with each other.

For example, in my own art – many of my influences (be they heavy metal album covers, old horror novel covers, cyberpunk films, old computer games etc..) often make use of high-contrast lighting (or “Tenebrist” lighting, to use the fancy word for it). This is where the colours and/or light sources in a picture are made to look bolder by contrasting them with a darker background. So, naturally, this is a part of my art style. It looks a bit like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

3) Maturity: This might surprise you, but heavy metal is probably one of the most sensible and mature genres of music out there. And, I don’t mean “mature” in the sense of one of those silly 1980s “explicit lyrics” stickers that are still somehow a thing these days.

In short, the metal genre has got a lot of the more immature “rebellious shock value” stuff out of it’s system during the 1980s/90s. Since metal is a non-mainstream genre these days, metal bands are thankfully spared the endless controversies that seem to plague anything vaguely popular.

As such, metal bands don’t have to worry too much about either courting controversy or about inadvertently causing it. After all, the only people who listen to metal these days are fans of the genre, so they’re unlikely to be shocked by more traditional elements of the genre.

In other words, metal bands have more creative freedom and, after using it to rebel for a while, they’ve got most of this out of their system and instead usually focus more on making music that is meaningful (or just fun), that sounds good and impresses their fans.

This means that when long-running or modern metal bands use things like four-letter words, disturbing descriptions, risquΓ© descriptions etc… it is often done in a way that is either more moderate, meaningful, infrequent, creative, comedic and/or carefully-considered than you might think. And, surprisingly, the music still sounds just as good!

Since there’s no point in shocking people just for the sake of it any more, these elements either have to be used in a way that actually has artistic merit or not used at all. And, despite heavy metal’s historical reputation as an “edgy” or “controversial” genre, you’d be surprised at how many modern metal songs could probably be played on the radio without censorship if DJs were willing.

So, yet again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…?

Well, simply put, it’s a good example of how creative people mature over time, if given the creative freedom to do so (eg: without having to worry about and/or court controversy all the time). It’s an example of how immature “shock value” will often give way to maturity and artistic merit if creative people aren’t held back by constant controversies etc..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Extra Review: Rage Of Light – Complete Digital Discography (Music)

Although I first discovered a couple of music videos by trance metal/ melodic death metal band Rage Of Light on Youtube a month or two ago (and bought a couple of their songs at the time), I recently ended up finding a video that included clips from several of their older songs from 2016.

And, after noticing that a MP3 copy of their current digital discography (containing an EP and three singles) cost a little over six quid on Bandcamp (the listed price is six Euros, but it was more like Β£6.20-30 when UK VAT was automatically applied), I decided to splash out on it. Hence this review.

So, let’s take a look at Rage Of Light’s current digital discography:

This is what the band’s digital discography currently contains at the time of writing.

Let’s start with the digital singles. “I Can, I Will” is one of the first songs by this band that I heard and it is probably their strongest song. It is a brilliantly intense mixture between melodic synth-pop/ symphonic metal- style vocals and growled death metal vocals.

All of this is backed up by a complex, resplendent mixture of crunchier guitars and electronic trance music that reminded me a little bit of a much heavier and more intense version of the background music from an old computer game πŸ™‚ It is a fast, complex, cathartic and catchy song.

The next digital single, “Mechanicals”, is a song that I was indifferent to at first, but it grew on me after listening to it a couple of times.

This is a sci-fi themed song about some kind of robot attack on a space station. It starts with an echoey distress signal, before some ominous clanking and tapping sounds play over piano music. Then, an electric guitar cuts in and there are a few ominously slow/quieter vocals. Then there’s a shout and the death metal-style guitars kick in.

Like with many of the band’s songs, this one contains a good contrast between melodic and more intense music. Personally, I vastly prefer the melodic segments of this song – with the chorus vocals (“Here come the mechanicals…”) and guitars just sounding a little bit too much like generic shouty/intense metal. But, the rest of the song has a really cool symphonic metal/ power metal kind of sound to it that is really awesome. At 7:18 minutes long, it is also the band’s longest song too.

Also, a couple of the quiet electronic background sounds are vaguely reminiscient of Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” and some of Perturbator’s music πŸ™‚

The final digital single, a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, is pretty interesting. It starts with a wonderfully gothic piano solo, before the guitars kick in and lead singer Melissa Bonny lets out a suitably intense and prolonged death metal growl.

As a whole, this cover version is a little bit more “electronic” and “gothic” than Amon Amarth’s original version of the song. The growled vocals have a suitably hoarse sound to them and – for the most part, the electronic and guitar music roils menacingly in the background – with a few sudden moments of intense guitar and/or synthesiser music. It’s a pretty cool cover that is both reminiscent of the original song, whilst also being it’s own thing at the same time.

The band’s 2016 EP “Chasing A Reflection” starts out with a song called “Beautiful Slave” that initially sounds a lot like a vaguely Xandria-style symphonic metal song, before the trance music really kicks in. All of this melody is later contrasted with a few brilliantly intense growled death metal segments. There are also a few classic heavy metal-style guitar flourishes too πŸ™‚

This song is one of the more melodic Rage Of Light songs and, after “I Can, I Will”, it is probably one of my favourite songs by the band. It is a wonderfully brilliant mixture between melody, intensity, metal and electronica πŸ™‚

“Deception” starts out with a jauntily gothic piano instrumental, paired with some dramatic drums and, later, some menacingly understated gothic synth music. The intense electronic background music that plays during many parts of this song is pretty cool too. Like with the other songs, there’s a contrast between growls and melody, intensity and quietness. However, the lyrics to this song seem a little bit random. Even so, it’s still a reasonably cool song.

“Lollipop (Candyman)” is comedy metal at it’s best πŸ™‚ If you have childhood memories of the 1990s, you’ll probably remember an annoyingly catchy pop band called Aqua. Well, this song is a trance metal-style cover of one of their songs, and it is hilarious. Plus, due to the fact that it is heavy metal music, the song’s catchiness actually works in it’s favour too πŸ™‚

“Sick” is a more intense, growly kind of song. The trance elements fade into the background slightly and there is more emphasis on the heavy, crunchy guitars. The melodic vocal segments in this song are also more like traditional symphonic metal than synth-pop too. This is one of those songs where, although it didn’t really impress me when I first saw the music video for it, it has grown on me a bit after listening to the MP3 a couple of times.

The final song on the EP, “Requiem” starts out in a slower and more melodic way, before becoming more intense. This song contains a lot more electronic elements than many of the other songs and is probably the most “trance music”-like song in their current discography. It also includes a couple of vaguely dubstep-like electronic segments too. Of course, it also contains death metal and symphonic metal elements too. The more intensive mixture of styles is a little bit puzzling at first, but it works reasonably well.

All in all, this discography is pretty cool. Although only a few songs really grabbed my attention at first (eg: “I Can, I Will”, “Lollipop” and “Beautiful Slave”), the rest of the collection has grown on me after listening to it a couple of times.

If you like intense metal that isn’t afraid to be melodic and creative too, then you’ll like this. Somehow, the mixture of trance music and metal works surprisingly well and this is a modern band that is probably worth taking a look at.

If I had to give the discography a rating out of five, it would get a four.

The Test Of A Good Collaborative Project – A Ramble

Although I’m someone who takes a resolutely solitary attitude towards my own creative works, I ended up thinking about creativity and collaboration recently since I still seem to be going through a phase of listening to more Nightwish than usual at the moment. So, I’ll be using this band as an example for most of the article.

If you know anything about Nightwish, you’ll know that they’ve had three different lead singers (Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon and, currently, Floor Jansen). Needless to say, there has been a lot of fierce online debate about which singer is “best”. This is further compounded by the fact that each singer has a different singing style. Tarja’s style is bold, serious and operatic. Anette’s style is a bit “lighter”, more cheerful and more energetic. And Floor’s style is somewhere between these two.

In this article, I’ll mostly be focusing on Tarja and Anette’s time with the band. This is mostly because, from what I’ve heard of Floor Jansen’s stuff, she seems to be something of a rare exception to some of the general rules that I’ll be talking about in this article. And since this is meant to be an illustrative article about collaborative projects, rather than a piece of music journalism, I thought it best to focus on the band’s history.

Anyway, during a moment of nostalgia for the two versions of Nightwish that I grew up with, I decided to take a look on Youtube for some of Tarja and Anette’s solo stuff. The thing that really surprised me was that neither singer’s “new” songs really had the same impact on me that Nightwish’s music does. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t specifically a fan of any one lead singer, I was a fan of Nightwish.

Because, regardless of the singer, the whole band is what makes their music so good. Whether it’s lyrics by Tuomas Holopainen and/or Marco Hietala or the rest of the band’s distinctive instrumental style, the band only really seems to “work” as a whole. This holistic thing can be seen by how the musical style of the band changed whenever the lead singer changed. For example, earlier Nightwish albums like “Once” or “Century Child” had a bold, ethereal, fantastical sound to them that went really well with Tarja’s singing style.

Yet, once Anette’s tenure with the band had really hit it’s stride (after the ok, but not brilliant, “Dark Passion Play” album), the band’s style became somewhat different. Many songs on their “Imaginaerium” album have a slightly faster, darker and more cinematic sound to them which jumps around in an impishly fascinating way and really complements Anette’s vocals.

Likewise, the “slow” songs on both “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerium” sound very different to the kind of slow songs that worked well when Tarja was lead singer. Yet, all of these songs are still very recognisably “Nightwish” songs.

They’re still recognisably “Nightwish” songs for the simple reason that the band adapted to the change in lead singer. They didn’t try to be exactly the same band as they were before, but they took all of the elements that made their music so distinctive and adjusted them to be a better fit with their new lead singer. Likewise, the change in lead singer also spurred the band to look for a few new musical inspirations too.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about one band? Well, it’s because good collaborative projects can’t easily be separated into their individual parts. Often, they end up being greater than the sum of their parts. They’re a merging of several different imaginations and sets of talents during one particular moment in time.

To use another Nightwish-related example, when Anette was new to the band, there were relatively few songs written for her (eg: just the songs on “Dark Passion Play” and a couple of other songs), so she ended up singing a fair number of older songs that were originally written with Tarja’s voice in mind. Since Anette’s voice is extremely different, this led to a lot of criticism of both her and the band at the time. Yet, when she sang songs that were written specifically for her, it was nearly impossible to imagine Tarja ever singing the same songs.

Leaving aside Floor Jansen’s uncanny ability to sing both Tarja and Anette’s songs fairly well, a good collaborative project isn’t like a machine. You can’t just switch out one part of it with another and expect it to work in exactly the same way. No, every part of a good collaborative project has to be a good fit with the rest of it. Each element of a good collaborative project should be difficult or impossible to replace with something else, without other major changes.

So, yes, the test of a good collaborative project is often whether it works as a whole. Or, more accurately, whether it becomes less good if one part of it is changed without the rest of it also changing too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Four Reasons Why Some Creative Works Become Better With Time

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at why some older creative works can seemingly become better with time. This was something that I noticed when I happened to re-listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” album from 2010 a while before writing this article. When this album was originally released, I really liked a few songs from it but didn’t quite consider it to be one of Iron Maiden’s better albums.

But, a few years later, it seems like a considerably better album than I’d originally thought that it was. So, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why some creative works can seemingly become better with the passage of time.

1) Hype and expectations: Carrying on with the example I used earlier, Iron Maiden albums are one of the few things that I tend to buy when they’re still “new”. When a new Iron Maiden album is released, it’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s a lot of expectations and pre-release information (and the occasional music video) on the internet. The same sort of thing is probably true for anything made by your favourite musicians, writers, game developers etc..

One of the advantages of revisiting things that have stopped being new (or looking for older creative works) is that they aren’t surrounded by lots of hype and expectations. In other words, it’s easier to look at these things on their own merits. If something is good, but different, then this is easier to see when your mind isn’t clouded by hype and anticipation.

It’s also easier to see these things as one stage in a band’s, novelist’s or game franchise’s creative development when you can also see later things that have been made by the same people. Being able to put a creative work in context can sometimes make it seem even better as a result (either because you can see hints of older works or newer works in it).

2) Nostalgia and historical curiosity: This is a fairly obvious one, but looking at older creative works can be a great way to “travel back in time” to better parts of our lives or to interesting parts of the past. This alone can make some creative works seem a lot better than they probably were at the time.

For me, a good example of this is an American TV show from the 1990s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. I saw at least two episodes of this on the BBC when I was a child. But, I considered it to be somewhat cheesy. It wasn’t a bad program, but it didn’t really impress me as much as other TV shows of the time did.

Yet, during a “1990s nostalgia” phase late last year and earlier this year, I ended up getting most of the show on DVD. This time round, it seemed to sum up everything wonderful about the 1990s. The fashions! The set design! The production values! The optimistic attitudes! The guest stars! The humour! The gloriously silly storylines! I could go on. But, the show seems to work a lot better as a “retro” historical artefact than it did when it was actually “modern”.

So, yes, when something goes from being current to being “a way to step back into the past” or even “a way to escape from the present day for a while”, it will generally seem better as a result.

3) You’re older: Following on from my last point, if you revisit a creative work several years after you first encountered it, then you aren’t the same person you were then. You’ve got more experience, you’re more intelligent and your tastes might be very slightly different.

As such, you’re more likely to see things that your younger self dismissed as “boring” or “crap” in a slightly different way. You’re more likely to pick up nuances or themes in a creative work that your younger self might have missed. You’re more likely to be able to empathise more with some characters than you were before. You’re more likely to enjoy things like slower-paced storytelling, philosophical depth or narrative complexity.

Of course, this sort of thing can cut both ways. Things that seemed really cool when you were younger can seem trite, superficial and/or embarassing when you’re slightly older. But, even so, it will allow you to enjoy some creative works significantly more than you did when you were younger.

4) Modern culture: This one is a bit cynical, but one reason why creative works that seemed “mediocre” when they were new can seem “amazing” when they’re a bit older can be because current culture has got worse.

When this sort of thing happens then anything from a time that you consider to be a “golden age” gets an almost instant upgrade. After all, it’s better than the modern stuff by comparison. A good example of this can probably be seen with many computer and video games.

Even slightly “mediocre” games from the past can seem better when compared to everything I’ve seen and read about their modern counterparts. For example, even the crappiest 1990s first-person shooter game will still include things like non-linear level design, imaginative weapon designs, a focus on single-player gameplay etc.. But, from everything I’ve heard about FPS games from this decade, many of them seem to be linear, militaristic, simplified, multiplayer-focused things that focus more on fancy graphics than enjoyable gameplay.

So, yes, if one of your favourite genres of entertainment has gone downhill in recent years, then even mediocre things from the past can start to look like masterpieces.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚