Music critic, Daniel Marsicano shares his side of the story about heavy metal music, that first listen to “Turn The Page” and how the internet has skewed our perception of journalism.
You have been writing for several years in several formats and positions. Why did you choose music journalism?
I’ve been into journalism ever since I was in middle school, helping my technology teacher write video game reviews for the school newspaper. I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, “The Accent.” When I got to college, I continued to study journalism. I never considered writing about music in any capacity until my freshman year. I saw an opening at 411mania.com for a staff writer in their music section.
I was a big fan of the site at the time, and it seemed like an interesting opportunity to undertake. I wrote a review of Chimaira’s “Resurrection,” which was good enough to land me a position on their staff. My first published review was for Machine Head’s “The Blackening.” From there, I worked on my writing, trying to improve with each review. It’s a process that I’m continuing to learn to this day.
There’s something about sitting down and expressing my thoughts on a piece of music that draws great appeal to me. Though I’ve only been doing this since 2007, I’ve developed a vast range of knowledge on music that I’ve very proud to possess. The metal culture itself, especially the people that write about and create metal, is unlike anything else out there. It’s one of a kind, and I’ve always felt accepted in it, even when I was struggling to find my literary voice in the early days.
Reading your work, I realize that your taste in metal music is rather eccentric. When and how did you get acquainted with heavy metal?
I have to thank my mom for opening me up to heavy metal. I still remember the first time I became entranced by metal. I was 11 and driving with the family down the backroads of New Jersey in the middle of the night. My mom was a big fan of the classic rock stations, so I became familiar with bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who early on. I didn’t pay much attention to the heavier stuff, as I was more into classic rock as a young kid.
That fateful night, the radio station was playing Metallica’s cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” It was something about the power and force behind their version of the song that mesmerized me. I knew I had to hear more like it, so I picked up the “Garage Inc.” album immediately afterwards. That was the first metal album I ever bought.
From there, I was a slave to the metal machine. I began to do research, finding out about the artists that Metallica covered on the album. Bands like Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, and Motorhead became objects of my affection. Soon enough, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer entered the fray because of the “Big 4” association. Most of my high school years were building up my CD collection with every album from the “Big 4,” along with other metal artists of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to really dig deeper into metal, past the stuff that would be considered “mainstream.” That’s how I became interested in genres like death, doom, and black metal. I got recommendations from friends, spent hours on the Internet looking up bands, and tried to soak in as much about metal as I possibly could. I love listening to new music, whatever genre it might be. There isn’t one particular genre that I’m obsessed with; I honestly enjoy them all for different reasons.
Based in New Jersey, what can you tell us about the metal scene over there that we don’t already know about?
Like every place in the world, there are bands that have hit it big (The Dillinger Escape Plan, God Forbid, Overkill) and then are the underground darlings (Evoken, Ripping Corpse). However, there are plenty of up-and-coming bands looking for any kind of spotlight. Fantastic talents like Beyond Dishonor, Windfaerer, and Grimus deserve more coverage than they may get, and that’s what I like to do as a writer. I like to give bands working their way up the opportunity to get their music out to a bigger audience, whether it’s by interviewing them or getting a review up of their latest work.
As a part of About.com, SMN news, and Metal Underground – you have come across several releases. What are your “must have” album/EP’s for 2012, so far?
Well, it’s hard just to pick a few, as 2012 has been a great year so far for metal. The album that I will probably have near the top of my “best-of-year” list has to be Woods of Ypres “Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light.” No album this year has moved me the way that this album does, and it’s really a shame that David Gold is not around to see the positive response it has obtained. CattleDecapitation’s “Monolith Of Inhumanity” is just an insane death metal record, and seeing them play almost the entire album live reinforced how incredible the album is. For those looking for the lighter side of metal, Anathema’s “Weather Systems” is top-notch. In my opinion, it’s easily their best album since they switched to a more atmosphere style of music.
On that note, what are your “must watch” movies/films for 2012, so far?
This is a tougher question for me to answer than picking the “must-have” albums/EP. I love films, but I tend to stick to less contemporary material. More often than not, watch older films from the ‘70s and before; material from directors like Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, before they got really big. From what I’ve seen this year so far, I would have to recommend “God Bless America,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Cabin In The Woods.” That list will probably get bigger once I actually stop being cheap and go to the movie theaters more than once a month.
Do tell us more about your aspiration to be a novelist/screenwriter?
My aspirations as a novelist/screenwriter have only come about in the last few years. I never saw myself as the kind of writer that could handle a massive undertaking like a novel or a screenplay until my senior year in college. I took a creative writing course that opened my eyes to the potential I had as a novelist/screenwriter. Using an idea that I’ve had since I was 15, I wrote a screenplay in late 2010/early 2011 called “The Lost Soul.” I’m very proud of it, though it is collecting dust at the moment until I figure out what to do with it next.
With all the music writing I handle, it is hard to find time to fit in a novel, but I’m doing my best with that. It’s a slow process, but I hope to get something done in the next year or two. Being able to act creatively like this allows me to flex my writing muscles, and not be confined to reviews and interviews. I enjoy those as well, but I get a different kind of joy out of sitting down and fleshing out characters and stories that have come from my twisted imagination.
The internet has skewed the perception of “journalism”. What are your pet peeves about the press?
I went to school specifically to learn about journalism, so my definition of what journalism is differs from music writers who jump into the field with no writing experience. To me, what I do is not journalism. If I was out there, reporting on hard-hitting stories and breaking news involving music, I would consider myself a fedora-wearing journalist of the classiest kind. I think of myself as a music writer or a critic, but not a journalist.
Anybody who sits and regurgitates press releases to make “news” is not a journalist either. It takes no skill to copy and paste a press release someone else spend time working on, and plopping your name on it. That’s really one of my biggest pet peeves about the so-called “metal press.” Having a blog and throwing other people’s work up there with your name in the byline doesn’t make you a journalist; it just makes you a wily Internet basement dweller.
The Internet has very few avenues for compelling metal journalism; hell, in fact, it’s hard to find it in print too nowadays. Maybe I’m being very jaded or a cynical prick, but that’s how I see things. I have no issues with people going out there and trying to make a name for themselves in metal journalism, but it takes a lot more than being on a bunch of mailing lists to call yourself a journalist.
When you are not being a writer – how do you spend your time?
Since 90% of my life revolves around writing/listening to music, I find I don’t have much free time. When I do find it, I spend it working out, playing video games, watching obscure films, and reading. I’m trying to learn how to cook too, but that’s shaky territory at this point.
I read on your Twitter profile that you like 80’s romantic comedies – are you talking about “Say Anything” or “When Harry Met Sally”?
Both actually, though I would have to say that “Say Anything” is definitely one of my favorite ‘80s movies, period. I’m a big John Cusack fan, so that helps things a bit. I enjoy all kinds of ‘80s romantic comedies, especially “Moonstruck,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “My Crazy Summer.” Like music, I have a very eccentric taste in movies. I can watch “Cannibal Holocaust” one day and “Sleepless In Seattle” the next. I enjoy watching both of those movies in different ways, as well as everything from westerners and cheesy action flicks to artsy, low-budget indie films.
Are there any last words that you would like to add?
I just want to thank you so much for letting me be a part of this. Anybody interested in keeping up with my work or wanting to learn more about me can visit me on Twitter @heavytothebone2. I’m very sarcastic and a little goofy, but that’s where you can find any articles that I write. I’m more than happy to respond to any tweets sent my way as well!
Thank you, Dan Marsicano!