First off, in no way am I a short-attention-span apologist: I don’t buy the argument that our attention spans are getting shorter and I think if we tried for more than three seconds we could easily, you know, pay attention. I love metal, which, a lot of the time, and especially historically, is an album-based genre. Having said that, as anyone who has been unfortunate enough to sit through more than two of my record reviews over the past 20 years knows, I think if an album goes on for about one second too long, the band blew it and I never want to listen to it again.
I enjoy listening to a complete album as a complete album, and if that experience is pushing 45 minutes or so, your band better be named Neurosis or else impact starts diminishing at a pretty fast rate in extreme music. And that’s what it’s all about: impact. I want a release to end and I say, “Damn, I want more.” Not, “Damn, I’m tired out. I’ll never listen to that again.”
Now, I enjoy it when a band like, say, Ulcerate or Gigan make longer albums, despite all my bellyaching; every song they make is as long as Assück’s first album, and they do a great job at bringing listeners on a journey. But they’re exceptions to my iron-fisted rule.
What I’m getting at is for a genre as intense as metal, sometimes short albums or EPs are best. To put it another way: I’m glad Reign in Blood isn’t longer than it is, and if it was, maybe it wouldn’t be the classic it is today.
Here are five times shorter was better.
Assück – Anticapital
You know an album rules when it’s 15 minutes long but no one ever dares call it an EP. Anticapital, which could theoretically be a 7”, is one of the greatest metal albums of all time (and before you ask, it’ll probably never be in our Hall of Fame, but, believe me, it’s not for the lack of trying). And it’s 15 minutes long. It takes you places, it leaves you exhilarated and inspired, it knocks your jaw to the floor. If Anticapital was 50 minutes long, it would probably be none of these things. It would be amazing but exhausting; I wouldn’t reach for it as often, and it would not be as incredible as it is because it’s tough to listen to a 50-minute grind album, even when it’s the best grind band ever. This right here is one of the greatest metal albums of all time, and it’s 15 minutes long. And one of the reasons why it’s one of the greatest metal albums of all time is that it’s 15 minutes long.
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
There’s been some different versions of this one over the years, but let’s not forget that the original had six songs and clocked in at just under 25 minutes. And, it’s, you know, fucking Morbid Tales. It’s a landmark release in extreme metal, it’s spoken of in hushed tones, it’s in our Hall of Fame, many lonely nights spent tracing back the roots of both death metal and black metal have this album as a very early point on that family tree flowchart scrawled on the back of divorce papers, Tom Warrior’s deathgrunt soothing all your worldly woes away. And it’s 25 minutes. Forget about demanding more for your money, which is what these arguments usually come down to: these guys were making history here. They didn’t need 26 minutes. They could do it in 25.
Coalesce – 0:12: Revolution in Just Listening
Part of the charm of the third album from hardcore button-pushers Coalesce is that it’s 23 minutes long. We scratched our heads in confused silence when it came out, wondering if this was an EP or an album. Turns out, it doesn’t matter, because it rules (it rules so hard it ended up in our Hall of Fame, which has a few significant short releases inducted into it), and when your band pummels with exactly one setting the way Coalesce do, anything longer than 23 minutes is basically overkill. Quality isn’t quantity; quality is knowing where your strength lies, quality is knowing what is going to make for a rewarding record. Quality isn’t giving people more minutes for their dollar, it’s giving them more sincerity for their dollar, and this record is overflowing with the stuff. If this record was 40 minutes long, it’d be tiring. As is, it’s incredibly inspiring, a beast of a record, with a really short runtime.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Under the Running Board
Part of the reason the Dillinger Escape Plan blew our minds apart when this EP came out in 1998 was because it was so short. In seven and a half minutes, DEP went through more musical hoops and brought us through more ups and downs than most bands could accomplish in a gotta-be-50-minutes-or-else-people-will-complain full-length. This was 7:33 of pure insanity; they did manage to add in enough peaks and valleys to make their debut full-length, Calculating Infinity, another mind-bending listening experience, although, if we’re being honest, this EP delivers the goods in a more satisfying and intense manner, suckerpunch out of nowhere that it was after their forgettable debut EP. I love Under the Running Board so much; I’ve listened to it countless times and never, ever once have I thought, “this should be longer.” It’s perfect.
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Obviously, no one is going to deny it’s a classic. And we all love to talk about how the cassette had the same songs on both sides, and we all love to talk about how it’s a legendary album but it’s “under half an hour, man!” What we should say is it’s a legendary album because it’s under half an hour (man). Can you imagine if this record, which was the first album ever inducted into our Hall of Fame, went on for 55 minutes? Shorter is better a lot of the time, and Reign in Blood is a thrash classic that proves it. Do I want Master of Puppets to be 25 minutes long? No, but every song on there is as long as three songs on this album, and Slayer were a lot more extreme than our boys in Metallica; for metal of this extremity, especially given the era it came out in, keeping it short is the best way to really hit hard. In a sense, few albums have ever hit as hard as Reign in Blood. And it’s under half an hour, man.