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Hatchet Job 

The Black Panel proves that rock criticism is a science, not an art

Previous experience has taught us that honesty in reviewing local musical offerings is not always appreciated and is, in fact, usually met with open hostility. Undaunted, we assembled a panel of local musicians and artists (see table) to do the work for us. This served two purposes: (1) It meant one sour person could not unfairly trash a band without other opinions' being voiced. (2) It meant sole blame for any bad reviews could not be pinned on the RFT.

Rules of the game: The deck was stacked heavily in favor of the local bands. Rather than pit them against one another (the local scene is fractured enough), the bands compete against songs from Molly Hatchet's latest album, Kingdom of XII. The panelists listen to one track by the local band. The panelists then listen to one track from Molly Hatchet. All panelists are then asked one simple, elegant question: Faced with imminent death, would they choose the local band or Molly Hatchet as the dinner music for their last meal? The local band that beats Molly Hatchet by the greatest margin (i.e., received the greatest number of votes) is declared the winner. Any song can be "gonged" by any panelist, which stops the song but does not remove it from contention. In some cases, the results are astonishing (two groups lose to Molly Hatchet). In most cases, the results are predictable (Molly Hatchet is gonged every time). It must be noted that although the panel is occasionally harsh in judgment, that's because its members care deeply about the local scene. Every kid who starts a band is less likely to succumb to the evils of Republicanism, organized sports or cattle rustling, so the panel is very much pro-local band. We just refuse to coddle them when they stink.

Band: Solar Trance
Album: Three-song demo disc
Song: "Pleasing You"
There is some concern that the wrong disc is being played, because everyone expects Solar Trance to be some atmospheric electronic outfit, not a semi-hard-rockin' power trio. Many voice complaints about how low the vocals are mixed, but the panelists concede that demos are not finished products. The fair-play rule is invoked by Jamie, who is concerned about critiquing a demo, but René lowers the editorial boom with an authoritative "They sent it in, so they asked for it."
Positive comments: Says Anne, "I'm trying to learn about mixing and recording, so I'd take Solar Trance [over Molly Hatchet]. I'd just like to help."
Negative feedback: Again from Anne, "I could not get it on to the Solar Trance." The stacked deck is working; Anne chooses the Trance over the Hatchet.
Final score: Solar Trance, 2; Molly Hatchet's "Tumblin' Dice," 6. One vote for silent death. The Hatchet claims its first victim.

Band: Fifty-50
Album: Six-song demo disc
Song: "Blackbeard"
The panel is underwhelmed by Fifty-50's professional-looking press kit, replete with critiques and hometown-newspaper clippings, which various panelists decry as appearing "needy." Several panelists also express concern that Fifty-50 is a boy band, judging from its members' cherubic faces and shopping-mall fashion sense. Then the crunchy guitars and double-bass drum kick in, and those fears are dashed against a smallish wall of metallic alt-rock.
Note to the boys: Ditch the online critiques. No band should claim they rocked Kuala Lumpur's online critic.
Positive comments: "Their guitar work is fiery," Andrew mumbles. "I think one of these guys is a ringer, but I'm goin' Fifty-50 all the way" is Art's assessment.
Negative feedback: "Molly Hatchet is Fifty-50, like, 30 years from now," Erin predicts. Ominous.
Final score: Fifty-50, 5; Molly Hatchet's "Turned My Back on Yesterday," 3. One vote for silent death.

Band: Self Restraint.
Album: A Little Less of Everything
Song: "Shallow"
Self Restraint's press kit claims they "play a fierce blend of aggressive rock flowing along the lines [sic] Tool and Helmet," and the panel waits breathlessly for that potent alloy to manifest itself. The song's slow, melodic beginning reminds some panelists of Low, but, alas, as soon as the guitars get loud (around the 59-second mark), Art gongs the song into submission. No panelist demands a rebate, and so Self Restraint becomes the first non-Molly Hatchet track to suffer ignominious defeat. Why? "Molly Hatchet is the lesser of two evils here," says Andrew, and the Hatchet stays on deck.
Positive comments: "They're interesting to me in a ... sexy way?" Anne either wanted confirmation of this statement or couldn't believe she was saying it.
Negative feedback: Noted Art, "I just gonged this one. Gonged! God, that was fucking horrifying."
Final score: Self Restraint, 2; Molly Hatchet's "Angel in Dixie," 3. Three votes for silent death -- but the gong is the cruelest death of all.

Band: Skarekrauradio
Album: FeelPee EP
Song: "Future Insectoid"
How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The fish! Jokes like that one are Skarekrauradio's forte. This baby was a 50-car pileup of "What the fuck?" from the get-go. A little skronky, a little shrill, a little herky-jerky and fairly reeking of dark intelligence, Skarekrauradio was a welcome breath of nonlinear mus-art. Anne has seen them live and sets about convincing the rest of the panel to shave their heads and join this "total great noise-rock" cult, but some cannot be swayed. "You know how many bands I've seen that sound like this? Thousands!" roars Art from his jade(d) throne.
Positive comments: "I think they could be the next REM," Janice proclaims with just a smidgen of irony.
Negative comments: "I've totally lost perspective," René wails, still reeling from all the Molly Hatchet. It takes a 12-inch Schnucks brownie to coax her off the parapet.
Final score: Skarekrauradio, 7; Molly Hatchet's "Cornbread Mafia" (again), 1. One vote for silent death, but Jamie says it's because Art is old.

Band: Stare the Infant.
Album: The Stare Sessions
Song: "Was machst du en einer Freizeit?"
This particular item is entered into the demolition derby by an anonymous panelist who had the CD-R forced on her at work by a weaselly band member. Despite the atrocious sound quality and "Surely this must be a joke" looks that furrow every panelist's brow, Stare the Infant goes ungonged. The group is undoubtedly saved by its unbelievably chintzy punk-guitar stylings and sophomoric German lyrics, which elicit horrified shrieks of laughter from Nicole, who is German.
Positive comments: There is none, but having an attractive fraulein giggling and translating, "Eat my shit/I have a big dick," over and over, was the realization of several deep, disturbing fantasies. Thank you, Nicole.
Negative comments: Janice drops mad science, saying, "You know how when you have a really big poo inside of you and you're straining and straining and then that wonderful blissful experience when it finally falls out? Well, Stare the Infant is the battle, and Molly Hatchet is the bliss."
Final score: Stare the Infant, 4; Molly Hatchet's "Turn My Back on Yesterday," 4. There is one silent-death vote, but only because Jamie is actually praying for death at this point. How do four panelists vote for STI? Chalk it up to the Nicole factor.

Band: Black Midnight
Album: Demo
Song: "Shimi Shimi Shmoo"
Emotional lines were drawn in the sand over this trio of pop-rockin' girls from Eureka. Yes, they are adorable. Yes, they are influenced by Hanson. Yes, they are charming, polite and endearing. Would that be enough to win the eight of nine panelists' votes necessary to overcome the sophisticated stupidity of Skarekrauradio? Her Editorship is a fan of the Black Midnight: Would her paycheck-authorizing hand influence the vote? Black Midnight did very well in the balloting -- but not well enough.
Positive comments: René says, "I love them. They're giggleboxes."
Negative feedback: "I have a bias against harmonicas," Andrew begins, only to be cut off with this stinging rebuke from Janice: "Oh, Andrew's part of the boy-band Mafia. And there's one thing boy bands put in their mouths, and it ain't harmonicas."
Final Score: Black Midnight, 5; Molly Hatchet's "Kickstart to Freedom," 2. Art Chantry and Jamie Sheehan share death's sweet, silent embrace.

Conclusions: In a shocking upset, the art-core of Skarekrauradio takes the ribbon with seven of nine possible votes. The all-girl Black Midnight and the all-boy Fifty-50 (average age: 16) share second place with five of nine votes; perhaps they should consider hooking up for a brief tour of the city. Everyone else, good hustle (except for you, Molly Hatchet -- you should just give it up). Please note that the panel can be reconvened at any time, so continue to send in those tapes and CD-Rs.

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