Friday, March 1, 2019

Tech death and black metal belong on different shelves

I'm only now catching up with AMC's code monkey prestige drama Halt and Catch Fire. The show is entertaining on several levels, but I take particular enjoyment in the music selection (which in early seasons included forgotten Eighties hardcore bands and some delightfully tacky synth pop - it's a show about computer programmers set in the Eighties, after all).

Early in the fourth (and final) season, Dr. Katie Herman (Anna Chlumsky) delivers this delightful monologue:

First of all, the scene is amazing purely for how unexpected it is for a television show to spend a full minute on underground metal and the wonkery of categorizing its various subgenres. And Chlumsky nails the speech - it's probably the best one she's done, outside of her Veep character's sublime meltdown.

It's not entirely clear what year this episode takes place - but since the plot revolves around the race to create the first web search engine, presumably this scene occurs before 1994 (when Yahoo, Lycos, and Infoseek all went public). If that's the case, I have the following pedantic quibbles:

  • Organizing your Obituary and Cannibal Corpse albums wouldn't have been hard, since each band only had three albums apiece before 1994.
  • The show's writers got a little over-eager in trying to establish their black metal cred - Cradle of Filth had yet to release an album before 1994. Emperor would have had a release out in 1993 (the split with Enslaved), but only on vinyl.
  • Seminal albums by Death and Carcass aside, "melodic" and "tech death" weren't actually distinct sub-genres at that point - it was all considered just "death metal".

Funnily enough, these anachronisms are characteristic of HACF's approach to history in general - the show has a Forrest Gumpy way of placing its characters at pivotal moments in technology (the invention of the portable PC,  the development of online chats, and eventually the creation of the internet as we know it), so I guess it was only natural for "Dr. Herman's brother" to discover melodic death metal and Norwegian black metal before everyone else.

If nothing else, I had a sudden and unexpected nostalgia for all the hours I spent arranging and categorizing my music collection. Oh, CD racks: Your help in procrastination is much missed.