Headbangers Brawl: What metal band could surprise-release an album?

Posted by on June 28, 2016


This year has been a busy one for surprise releases. Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool with one day’s notice, Beyonce’s Lemonade was released following the airing of a special on HBO, Drake’s Views, which has been #1 for eight weeks in a row, was released exclusively to iTunes initially. Kanye West also rush released The Life of Pablo, as did Rihanna with Anti. Of course, all of these artists are superstars, and Radiohead has been playing around with release conventions for nearly ten years. Yet as the traditional music industry continues to evolve and with streaming now commonplace, the question is raised: what hard rock or metal act could surprise-release an album?

Bram: The band that comes to mind immediately is Tool. They’re not beholden to a record label, and they’ve been taking their time working on the album. It’s a different time than when they released 10,000 Days (like 10 years different), but both it and Lateralus went gold in their first week, selling over 500,000 copies. That’s superstar status right there. And the fact that they’ve been so not-forthcoming about the album’s progress means that it could be mostly done already. There are still Tool megafans, and the band’s been doling out information via their fan club here and there about the progress of the album. They’re even playing parts of a new song and allowing some of their new visuals to be released. So it could be another 10 years off, or ready tomorrow.
Times have changed so much in the past decade both with Tool and the way people consume music that it’d be hard to imagine them just doing the typical leadup to a record release. From their artwork to hidden tracks to the videos they make, the band put a lot of craft into more than just their music, and it would be a pleasant shock and surprise for patient Tool fans that have been waiting for a new album for years to just suddenly be able to purchase the band’s next album. It’s hard to imagine them just releasing an album like they have in the past. On the other hand, their physical albums have always been interesting, from the lenticular cover of Aenima to the glasses that were part of 10,000 Days, and as holdouts to Spotify, there might not be an easy way to sneak-release a Tool album.
Alix: I guess depending on what you want to consider “surprise.” The marketing for those pop artists listed above are different because they don’t have the same core audience or following like some metal bands have. If you don’t get a Kanye West album in a span of a few years, you probably won’t notice it because there will be a new Drake album released to substitute. Metal, on the other hand, does have a more specific fanbase where people will exclusively follow what a certain band is doing, just like Bram’s example with Tool.

We can say it’s sort of a “surprise” when an allegedly retired band comes out of nowhere and say they have new material ready to go. Last week, Swedish tech-death legends Anata came back from the dead (although it was never officially stated they were done) and revealed that they were already in the process of mastering their new album they had in the shelves for a decade. Even though there isn’t a release date for the record and we already got a fair warning that it’s coming, it still took several fans by surprise.
I really can’t think of a band that has ever released an album the same day they announce it but it would certainly be something I’d love to see. Maybe Necrophagist can take the hint and do that so we can all lay to rest all those internet memes about them.

Zach Shaw: Without a doubt Metallica could surprise-release an album. That’s because as often as we talk about the band’s recording follies (happy 20th birthday to Load, by the way), Metallica no longer need to prove themselves with a new album. They are one of the few rock bands (not metal, but ROCK) that could still headline festivals like Lollapalooza or get millions of major media outlets to report on their farts without releasing a single note of new music. Hell, they’d probably sell out an entire North American arena tour even if they didn’t have a new album to promote. The fact is that the only real reason it would benefit Metallica to even release a new album (which let’s be honest, will sell WAY better than most records regardless of when or even how they release it) is so they have one extra thing they can sell while on tour.

Furthermore, not only could Metallica surprise-release an album, but they absolutely should surprise-release their forthcoming new record. Here’s a sad (but true…sorry, I had to) fact: in today’s sales climate, Metallica’s new album will likely sale considerably less than 2008’s Death Magnetic in its first week, even if it’s critically acclaimed and beloved by even metal elitists who dismiss anything that came after …And Justice For All. It’s not even Metallica’s fault; most bands nowadays see their first week sales pale in comparison to its predecessor (it even happened to AC/DC, whose 2014 album Rock Or Bust sold roughly 172,000 copies in its first week, while 2008’s Black Ice sold over 784,000 copies in its first week).

Ok, I know I just went on about how Metallica has nothing to prove anymore, and a new album is merely a product they can sell at the merch table. And it’s not like the headline “New Metallica Album Sells X less than Death Magnetic” would do any considerable damage to the band’s brand. But do you know what would be a better headline? “Metallica Sells X Amount Of Copies Of New Album, Despite Short Notice Of Release.” It’s cheap press, but hyping up the fact Metallica sold a shit ton of copies of an album they gave fans/press no notice on (which again, you know it will) is a nice way to downplay the fact it sold less than Death Magnetic. And as an added bonus, it avoids getting a new album lumped in with Metallica’s more recent… financial failures (namely that 3D movie, the destination festival, and Lulu).

Plus, remember when I mentioned how Metallica gets a ton of press for just farting? Imagine the media attention they’d get for this. The truth is though that even if Metallica doesn’t gain that much from a surprise-release album, they’re one of the few bands who also wouldn’t lose much from doing it either (and would maybe even lose less for the same amount of gain as they would from spending millions of dollars on an advance three-month PR push). Again, at the end of the day, the album will just be another thing for Metallica to sell at their already guaranteed successful tours, and maybe even get a few extra news hits from as well.

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Categorised in: Columns, Headbangers Brawl