REVIEW: Demons at the Helm

Demons at the Helm by The Whomping Willows is without a doubt the worst wizard rock album I have ever heard in my entire life, and I’ve listened to some stinkers.

Now, please allow me take a couple massive steps backward.

Of course, now that I’ve done that, I can no longer reach the keyboard.  Shit.

So, yes, Demons at the Helm is the worst wizard rock album I’ve ever come across, but as an muggle album? It’s pretty good.  Not Matt Maggiacomo’s best work (III and the Rock n ‘ Roll Redux EP), but better than his eponymous debut album, which was full of good ideas and fantastic ground work with some very iffy lyrical choices and musical execution.  I mean, just look at his most popular songs, and what, one of them (“I Killed My Owl”) came from that album?  Anywho, for me to properly review this album, I’ll have to go through it twice – once, discussing the music, and again, discussing the lyrics.

We start off the album with four second of silence.  As silence goes, it’s pretty aight.  Then “Don’t Let Me Explode” really starts, a mellow song with some really nifty lyrics (but I’ll get into that later) – for the first minute.  Then we have a jarring pause that’s about one second too long (seriously, just a bit shorter on that pause, and this would have been a massively better song), and then Whompy kicks it into high gear.  Well, high gear for him, which is a moderately fast acoustic guitar with a crashing cymbal behind it, and later an electric bass – that electric bass is your friend, Whompy, and you should use it more often.  While the fun bass work really helps, the song doesn’t get really good until the ending chorus thingie starts, right after a moderately interesting electric guitar solo. I can’t describe the voicework in this section with any other word but “expansive” – it just feels like the voices themselves are reaching, grasping out, trying to claim more of your eardrums – and it’s awesome.  Lauren Fairweather (who has one of the most exploitable last names in terms of terrible puns outside of the Harry Potter series) joins Matt in singing the song, in one of the neater ways of bookending an album I’ve seen, but I’ll get more into that when discussing the last song.  Suffice it to say that I really, really like how her voice is clearly there, and noticeable, but it’s more like a gender-bending echo than a duet.

There is one more thing I must say about the music – Matt less plays the acoustic guitar than attacks it, and that comes off in the music as an underlying deep scraping or “theeoomp”ing sound as he strums.  It’s pretty prevalent in almost all of his acoustic guitar tracks (basically, everything except III and the electric guitar redux EP – incidentally, my favorite albums by him [and no, I haven’t heard Wizard Party 4Ever or whatever yet, though I plan to]), but I never noticed it until really looking closely at this album, so it probably won’t bother the majority of listeners, and it only bothers me half the time.  Also, I know next to nothing about the guitar and how to play it, so maybe it’s just a side effect of strumming that fast, or that style of playing, or something.  People that actually know their guitar shit – let me know in the comments how hilariously wrong I am!

Oh, one more thing about the music, and this also sort of goes for most of the album, too: In this song, and in others, Matt less sings the song as he does enthusiastically recite it.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We’re Not In Hogwarts Anymore” is an easy little saunter down Acoustic Guitar Street, intersecting with Overly-Prevalent Bass Avenue.  Now, I have nothing against clearly audible bass lines, but finding a sweet spot for the volume of the bass is a tricky thing to master, and at least in this song, Matt still has some ways to go before I can make some sort of pun revolving around Link and the Master Sword.  Also, it’s not the most intriguing bass line ever, a simple alternating 1-2-3-4 with the occasional reversal.  But when Matt sings for the guitar to scream, we’re treated to the most fun and interesting solo in the album.

Also, I am know realizing that splitting the music and lyrics up into two sections really isn’t a very good idea, because for a lot of the album, the music is… well, it doesn’t deserve to be called “samey”, but you really can’t bust out a decent paragraph on just the music of each song without repeating yourself a lot.  Suffice it to say that much of the album musically sounds like a more polished version of Welcome To The House Of Awesome, and that’s the worst that can be said about it.  And at times, it truly is the best music The Whomping Willows has ever produced.  But let’s backtrack a little bit, to talk about the first song’s lyrics.

Lyrically, “Don’t Let Me Explode” sort of exemplifies the entire album.  While the lyrics are at best wizard rock in the most vaguest of senses and at worst not even meta-wrock (and I’ll get into that later), they are some of the niftiest lyrics Matt has ever crafted.  I mean, these lyrics are so nifty that the pure imagery and verbal dissonance often mask the fact that he sometimes rhymes a word with itself, or the same exact sound, consonants and all, which is one of my lyrical pet peeves.  A prime example are the very first lyrics of the album:

My body, a cold machine

A metal corpse without the sheen

Given that this is the Whomping Willow who’s singing, even if we come into the album knowing and expecting some meta-wrock, the lifeless, metal self-description, the very antithesis of a plant, a tree, the fount of life (though I guess not this particular tree…), is as jarring and shocking as the “coldest rain” falling over you – and it’s fucking brilliant.  On the other hand, he rhymed “shēn” with “shēn”, but the pure writing talent and craft on hand is so good that I don’t care.  This lifeless depiction of himself is further deepened when he references the Whomping Willow in the line “And if a friend should call on me / I’ll crush him where he stands.”  And once the music really kicks in, the lyrics do too, in two different respects.  Firstly, the lyrics are all about how Matt “can’t stand the way [he’s] ready” to hit the road, to play some music, to do this thing, this crazy idea to tour the country singing folk songs from the point of view of a homicidal tree.  But also, the rhyme scheme becomes much more fast paced and frenetic, spitting rhyme after rhyme at you – and yes, some of that is helped by the increased rate of delivery, but the ratio of rhymes to non-rhymes is definitely higher in this section.  Also, I don’t know why, but something just really tickles me about

Give me a guitar and a couple of beers

And a couple of friends, a couple of years

I’ll be setting aflame to all my fears

I won’t even watch them burn

There really is a lot of cool stuff in these lyrics, and you owe it to yourself to spend some time to really look at the pure poetry that Whompy is producing.  Don’t let me do all the work for you, just set aside some time, and do nothing but just listen to the lyrics of this album.  I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.  The last thing I’ll say about this track is that “Hold me down before I explode” could be interpreted in a lot of different ways, and the one Matt probably meant is probably 3rd or 4th on the list.

I’ve now decided something – I will go through all the songs twice, but the first time I’ll review the music and the lyrics, and the second time I’ll evaluate the meta-wrockness of the song.  Will I decide this is a stupid idea within two songs? Let’s find out!

Actually, I’ve already decided this is a stupid idea.

So, where does “Don’t Let Me Explode” lie on the meta-wrock scale?  I’m going to put it at “Barely Meta-Wrock”.  There are no explicit references to wizard rock, or even really to touring, but a lot is implied, and there are some cool wrock-y lines like

Thing of those nights I fell so deep

I couldn’t even drink myself to sleep

Just stayed up watching shadows creep

Along the castle wall

I really like how we go from a very human activity – getting drunk (The Remus Lupins‘ song “A Werewolf, A Willow” notwithstanding) to the great and very Potter image of shadows creeping along Hogwarts’ walls.  Also, I’m a big fan of the rule of three, so I really like these AAAZ rhyme schemes.  So, while a muggle could listen to this song and never guess it had anything at all to do with Harry Potter, there’s something to be said for requiring some previous knowledge to fully “get” a song.  Besides, if we excluded songs that contained no explicit references to Harry Potter, half of Split Seven Ways‘ oeuvre would be thrown out the window!

Now, “We’re Not In Hogwarts Anymore”.  It can be really tough to review good lyrics without just pulling out of context all of your favorite lines, which really isn’t interesting to the reader, who could just as easily listen to the song, instead of read it.  It’s about as interesting as meta-reviewing.  Anywho, this song could have just as easily been titled “I think it’s safe to say”, and I really like how that phrase is used at the beginning of each verse, though I’m not a fan of the ending basically being Matt shouting “I think it’s safe to say we’re not in Hogwarts anymore!” over and over – though I didn’t mind that happening in the previous song.  I think that’s because he was actually singing in the end of the last song, and he had another voice to help him out.

As for meta-wrockness, this is “Most Assuredly A Wizard Rock Song”.  In fact, it’s almost straight up wizard rock with a rock solid meta-tinge to it, seeing as one way you could interpret the song is all the different characters from the books literally leaving Hogwarts to go play wrock and rowl shows – sort of a song version of the premise of the original wrock bands.

1,785 words in, and we now finally get to the third song.  “Merch Girls Are Easy” is the sort of song where it’s really hard to talk about the music because the lyrics call so much attention to themselves.  So, I’ll make this quick – musically, it’s what we’ve come to expect from The Whomping Willows’ acoustic music – and that is most assuredly a good thing, though not a great thing.  It’s acoustic guitar, and… well, it’s pretty much just acoustic guitar.  But the music is not the point of this song.  Also, Matt’s smoked and whiskey-soaked vocal cords are put on full display in a manner some might find grating, but I find almost endearing, and very befitting this particular song.

Now, the lyrics.  Whoo boy.  Firstly, I should mention that this song won the WRPCA for Best Comedy Song, and it’s well deserved, though not my first choice, more like my fourth or something.  But it’s still definitely one of the funniest songs produced last year, and the song content is exactly what the title leads you to believe.  Pulling out just a few lines simply would not do the song justice, you really need to get the full effect to get the full humour of the thing, so stop listening to this and go listen to it right now.  If you don’t have it, buy it, or see if it’s on YouTube or summat.

However, I do have a minimum amount of verbosity required for each song, so I’m going to take this time to talk about the preview video Whompy made for this album.  Specifically, when he was talking about this song, and he mentioned how he was worried some 80-year old librarians or family values mothers might take a look at the track listing and notice this song and be shocked and appalled.  I’m sorry, but I just had to laugh – the same guy who released an album with song titles like “Crawl Through My Treehole” and “I’m A Whore For Dumbledore” is worried about the use of the word “easy”?  Though, I must say, this song might be a little uncomfortable to listen to for anyone who has actually been a merch girl for The Whomping Willows, or at the very least, a veritable treasure trove of comedy gold for the friends of such people.  Also, this is quite possibly the most meta-wrock song on the entire album, explicitly using the phrase “wizard rock band” within the first two lines, and using a few Harry Potter-related sex puns.

Of all the acoustic songs on this album, “A Brief Repose” is probably my favorite musically.  The guitar is played in a very different way than the previous songs, hitting much higher chords, and there’s TAMBOURINE!!!! (please read that word in an announcers voice)  All in all, it sounds just different enough to be refreshing, but isn’t at all jarring.  Matt goes for straight singing – not the talking/yelling of the first two songs, or the exaggerated grit of the previous song.  And it works… alright.  There are a couple slight hiccups (figuratively, not literally) here and there, and overall it’s pretty good for his admittedly limited vocal range, but I just prefer his straight-up singing when it’s over an electric guitar.  It just seems to mesh better.

Lyrically, this is one of the best songs on the album, with really fun lines like “boy, we need this decompression / ’cause rumours of our indiscretion” and “golden highways wear away to dust”.  It’s just a barrel of fun, clever rhymes and an all-around good time, which is ironic since this is the song where narratively, things start to go downhill.  We had a song about deciding to do this crazy thing, we had a song about this crazy thing working out pretty well, almost to a surreal extent, and we had a song about reaping the pleasures of being a celebrity.  Even if it’s just in the Harry Potter fandom.  So, now, things have to go downhill.  Otherwise, it’d be a terrible story.  Yeah, somebody becoming a famous niche musician and living out the rest of their days in relative comfort and with no real drama might be really nice for them, but it’s a godawful piece of storytelling.  Sometimes, life just happens to work along narrative convention.

Also, if by now you haven’t noticed the recurring mentions of alcohol, or you think they’re just throw away lines that will have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with the plot arc of the album or the central conflict, then you should officially consider signing up for one of those narcoleptic lemur preserves. However, while it’s one of my favorite songs on the album, this song rates firmly in the “NOT Meta-Wrock” category.  There are a few throw-away references to touring, but it’s really not about that.  It’s about the stress of the lifestyle getting to him, and while that might seem like that’s ripe for the meta-fruit picking, the song is all about the cracking, not about all the things that happened to get him to that point.  In the end, it could have been anything to get anyone to this point of pure frustration, even when part of you thinks you shouldn’t be frustrated at all.  This universal aspect makes it a great song, but a terrible meta-wrock song.  Again, I have nothing against meta-wrock or straight-up wrock songs that are universal in their lyrics, but those have to start from a specific story or character from canon, and just using a lot of vagueness and pronouns instead of names.  The end result could seem like a muggle song to a muggle, but if you just fill a couple holes it’s a bona-fide wrock song.  However, this song starts with the universal, and then makes it specific to one person, but not specific to wizard rocking, outside of the fact that this person happened to be touring as a wizard rock band.  But the type of music he’s playing and people he’s playing to doesn’t matter – the very fact that he’s playing music doesn’t matter – it’s the perverse sort of wanderlust where you’re always trying to find a place like home, but when you’re at home, you get restless within a week or two.  Any references to wizard rocking are vague and just veneer on the dense cake of human emotion.

God, I feel like a tool for that last sentence.  “The dense cake of human emotion”?  Really?  Also, if you’re putting veneer on your cake, and icing on your wood, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.  The only exception is if you take “icing on your wood” to mean things I don’t even want to contemplate.

“All Nighter” has a cool name, given what “all-nighter” can mean, especially in the context of drinking, when juxtaposed against the very restful and cool feel of the song.  In fact, this is the first time we see Matt rebel against alcohol, with the repeated asking for water. Really, the entire chorus is really cool, but the rest of the song is only so-so.  It’s the low point of the album, and while it’s still not that bad, and you need to listen to it at least once for the full impact of the album’s story, I skip over it pretty much everytime I listen to the album.

Musically, it is by far the calmest and most contemplative song on the album (mirroring the lyrics), to the point where it would be almost jarring except for the fact that the previous song stepped the frenetic pace of the guitar down a bit, and it’s just so damn mellow that it could never ever be described as something as violent as “jarring”.  In fact, the mellow tone works way too well, and becomes boring.  I get what Matt was trying to do here, and it mirrors the vocals really well, but while it’s not jarring, the song does feel out of place, and it just isn’t that fun to listen to.  It’s not a bad song to have on repeat as you go to sleep, but when you’re in the mood for The Whomping Willows, you’re usually not in the mood for a nice relaxing lullaby and a nap, and maybe a glass of warm milk, and a discussion of Canadian politics (NOTE: I am actually referencing an obscure Simpson’s joke, and not in any way demeaning Canadians or their fine way of deciding their leaders.  I believe how it works up there is that everyone who wishes to be President gets into a ring with an angry bear, and the last person standing wins.  Thus, Canada has been ruled entirely by bears since its inception).

Lyrically, it’s pretty much what I’ve described already – a mellow, introspective song exploring his own faults, but also with a tinge of hope for things to change, eventually.  The gimmick here is that it’s sung to Hagrid, and as such is the most “wizard rock” of the songs, but this aspect really doesn’t work for me.  Whompy really could be singing to one of dozens of characters from Harry Potter, or someone in real life, or to the good side of himself, or something.  Maybe Matt was trying to get across how the Harry Potter series helped him through some tough times, but I really don’t think that was the intention.  Maybe it was, but it certainly wasn’t clear.  Despite all the references to Hagrid (as in, by saying his name a whole bunch), I feel the most “wizard rock-y” bit of the song is the chorus, which is a brilliant allusion to Dumbledore’s struggle in the cave in Half-Blood Prince:

Come take my hand

Give me some water

Help me to breathe

Help me replace the memories

Of what’s done me wrong

So I can move on

Normally, I hate it when songs randomly stop rhyming, but it just works really well here, partly because it’s someone talking to someone else, so it sounds more natural, while still maintaining a really lyrical feel to it.  Also, we get a female guest vocalist again, and I can only assume that it’s once again Lauren Fairweather.  Her presence is once again relegated to the chorus, but it’s more substantial and noticeable.  I’ll get more into this when discussing the last song, but I do find it really cool.  On the “meta-wrock” scale, I’m going to have to put this song also in the “NOT Meta-Wrock” category.  Take away the word Hagrid, and it’s got almost nothing to do with Harry Potter or wizard rock.  It’s a very personal song about Matt Maggiacomo (whose name I will never spell correctly without the help of Google), not the whomping willow or even The Whomping Willows.  Really, he could have just replaced “Hagrid” with “my friends”, and everything would have still worked exactly the same.  Well, you might need to make a couple grammar adjustments, but my point is, the wizard rock-y aspect of this song feels really tacked on, except for the Dumbledore callback in the chorus, which may have been unintentional (though I really hope it’s not), and even if it is, it’s not enough to take it into wizard rock range, and there’s really nothing meta-wrock about it.

Musically, “All Bark, No Bite” sounds like you took the guitar part from “A Brief Repose”, took it down a couple octaves, added in the strummy sounds from the other songs, mixed with a dash of ukulele, an almost imperceptible smidgen of drums, and a single serving of harmonica.  The melody is sort of catchy, and the solo is nice, if pretty much just the melody again.  It’s not the weakest song on the album, but it’s definitely not the strongest.  It does come out of the ultra-mellow “All-Nighter” pretty well, but I would have rather kept the energy up, or make this the lowest point energy wise in the album.

Lyrically, “All Bark, No Bite” begins to climb out of the nadir that was “All-Nighter”, with the unnamed introduction of Lauren.  There’s some great thematic juxtaposition with “Merch Girls Are Easy” – while we can assume Whompy’s still on the sauce in this song, he’s stopped burning through women like cigarettes.  I’m not a huge fan on the central play on the phrase “He’s all bark and no bite”, mostly because we’ve seen much more clever lyricism on this very album, and while it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just isn’t as brilliant.  Yes, I am complaining that this song isn’t quite perfect.  Whatcha gonna do about it, huh, punk?  Anywho, there’s a callback line to “The Girl From New York”, a song off of the Wizards And Muggles Rock For Social Justice: Volume 2 album, and it is sort of interesting to see how long Whompy has been itchin’ to do more personal songs, and makes one wonder how long he’s planned this album.  This song is a song that I think pretty much everybody can agree is “Most Definitely NOT Meta-Wrock”.  It’s a purely personal song, and has nothing to do with wizard rock outside of the fact that the people in the song happen to also be in wizard rock bands, but that does not make a meta-wrock song.  Let me put it this way – if Brian and Bradley from Draco and the Malfoys made a concept EP about how much they like to brush their teeth – not Draco, but they themselves – and their struggles with their addiction to floss, would that be a meta-wrock album?  I would posit that it’s not.  However, I would totally want to listen to it.

“Watch Me Grow Older” is the only purely electric song on the album, and musically, is very refreshing. While I enjoy both flavors of guitar, after an entire album of acoustic, it’s nice to have a change-up.  In every respect, this is the most rock n’ roll of the songs on the album – the driving guitar, the vocals, the lyrics, all add up to a fun rock song.  Unfortunately, the solo is sort of drowned out by the backing guitar, which is too bad, because it sounded pretty interesting, but it wasn’t given the chance to shine on its own – you know, the whole sort of point of a solo. Matt’s voice really works with this style of song, even though it’s closer to enthusiastic talking than actual singing.

On the lyrical side of things, “Watch Me Grow Older” is sort of like “A Brief Repose”, except Whompy doesn’t care anymore.  He’s gonna drink till he can’t stand, rock and party all night, then hit the road again the next morning.  And you can watch it happen – he doesn’t care anymore.  Another crux of the song is dealing with how much older Matt is than his fans, and indeed, most of his fellow wrockers, but it’s pretty much only touched upon in the chorus.  But it’s hard to find good rhymes for arthritis besides meningitis. There’s also a throw-away reference to the song “Crazy Train” by that guy who was in those World of Warcraft commercials, which is fitting for the only electric song on the album.  On the meta-wrock-o-meter, this song is “Passably Meta-Wrock”.  It feels much more like a tour song than “A Brief Repose”, and does touch upon something connected straight to wizard rock – Whompy’s age disparity with his fans.  So, while it isn’t the most obviously meta-wrock song on the album, it comfortably passes the test.

I’m gonna switch things up with “Walk” by talking about the lyrics first.  After an electric song all about the crazy hectic life of touring, we go to a song about Whompy walking, and trying to sort through his feelings.  It’s also about how he feels trapped by his own insecurities, and his drinking problem, and how while he’s walking around to try and clear his head and tackle the problem, he’s also hoping to walk away from the problem entirely – but these sorts of problems aren’t ones that can’t be solved by running, or indeed walking away – which is the theme of the second half of the song, with the recurrence of the phrase “Don’t walk away from me, boy”.  There are two really cool things about this – firstly, it puts a spin on the theme of walking, and secondly, calling Matt a “boy” is a great subverted callback to the previous song, all about how old he feels.  This song is also “Most Definitely NOT Meta-Wrock”, as it’s another deeply personal song that has no relation to wizard rock outside of the fact that Matt sometimes pretends he’s a tree.

Musically, this is my favorite song on the entire album, and the first half really isn’t that interesting.  The chord pattern is pretty small, so the guitar work doesn’t really go anywhere, though Matt actually sings and it works out pretty well, plus there are hints of backing vocals on the word “walk”, foreshadowing the epic second part of the song.  And by God, is it epic.  Whompy recruited the help of the girls from Riddle™, and it was the perfect choice.  Victoria and Georgia’s voices are perfect – melodic and haunting, and they stick with you well after the album is over.  This second half works as a call and response, and even though it’s just the same four lines over and over for two and half minutes, the gradual building of the music, and thus, of the tension makes it work.  It’s like the Labyrinth theme from the original Legend of Zelda game.  The high point of the song, and the entire album is when Whompy replaces his singing with an electric guitar solo, but wisely kept Georgia and Victoria’s “ooooooooooh”s – the combination of ethereal voicework and electric guitar is nothing short of marvelous, and it’s without a doubt the greatest musical moment ever brought to us by The Whomping Willows (with the possible exception of “Fang, Stop Peeing On My Trunk”).  And while I’m not a huge fan of the first part, that build-up is what makes the sweet bliss of the second part so much better. And while I really don’t want to shortchange Riddle™’s musical prowess or song writing abilities, this may just be the best thing they’ve ever done.  I really think this song should have been nom’d for best collab.

Which brings us neatly to the next song, “A Conversation With My Demons”, which was nom’d for a WRPCA for best collaboration. “Walk” is a really tough act to follow, but follow it Matt does.  Part of what makes this song so successful is how different it sounds from the rest of the album – which is fitting, because lyrically, it’s the climax of the album.  The guitar is plucked instead of strummed, and there’s some really masterful use of 3/4 time.  There are not enough wizard rock songs in 3/4 time, and what’s really great about this song is that it doesn’t feel as overpoweringly like a waltz as, say, “Origin” by The Remus Lupins (though I do love that song).  It sounds unique and different, but also foreboding.  There’s also a tinge of acoustic Tenacious D buried somewhere in there, which is a nice touch.

Whompy’s singing is for the most part that sing-talking, but that’s fine because the song is really more like angsty emo poetry than anything else – but in a good way.  However, Matt does belt it out during the choruses (chori?) he duets with Mark Jennings, aka Voldemark, of The Ministry of Magic.  Oh, did I mention that Mark Jennings is on this song?  And that it’s freakin’ awesome?  Fittingly enough, Voldemark plays the part of Whompy’s demons, and if going to hell means that you get serenaded by that voice, then sign me up.  Seriously, I would make sweet, sweet love to Mark Jennings’ vocal chords.

That’s not creepy at all!

Anywho, the song builds up to the crescendo, and then back down to the too-quick resolution, and while it’s not as epic as the previous song, it gets pretty damn close.  You should definitely check it out.

Lyrically, it’s pretty self explanatory – a conversation with his demons, or demon, and on the off chance you haven’t heard the album yet, I won’t ruin it by reciting the chorus here.  However, there is one line that is too cool to pass up:

Should I empty my pockets, for an evening’s repose

Should I stare down the barrel ’till it soaks through my clothes?

I could write a whole ‘nother five thousand words just on those two lines.  It brilliantly and beautifully explains Whompy’s alcohol addiction with actually using the word “alcohol” or “beer” or “Sex on the Beach” or whatever, there’s a callback to the song “A Brief Repose”, and there is so much clever poetry in that second line that it’s all I can do to not blather on incoherently about tragic puns and multiple meanings of barrel and et cetera and so forth.  However, this song is also “Most Definitely NOT Meta-Wrock”, as it is about as personal as one can get – confronting one’s own demons.

The final song on the album, “A Heart Can Change”, musically has a lot in common with “A Brief Repose” – the guitar, the tambourine, it’s all there, plus a lower pitched guitar that really adds to the whole feel of the song.  It’s upbeat and hopeful, and not overly saccharine, and is a nice way to cap things off.  Also, it’s the third song with Lauren Fairweather doing guest vocals, and remember how I kept saying how I would talk about that later? Well, now, the time has come. What’s really cool about Lauren’s guest vocals is how in the first song they’re there, but definitely in the background.  In the middle song, they’re more prevalent, but still definitely backing vocals.  But now, in the final song, the song basically about her, it’s finally a true duet.  And that progression across the album is just so nifty, it helps make up for some of the lyrical problems of this song.

Really, I don’t have a problem with the lyrics of the song, it’s all classic falling action, wrapping everything up, happy ending, et cetera, until the last verse, when suddenly there are problems again, but they are solved within 8 lines.  It’s really sort of odd, though there is a nice reference to the Mudbloods (incidentally, which EP are you referring to, Whompy? “War Amidst Pop Songs”? “Animals That Have Left Me”?).  I mean, the whole song we’ve been told that his heart has changed and all that, but then in the 11th hour it’s back to being a bitch to deal with him, but then his heart has changed (still? again?) in the twelfth hour.  It’s a little disconcerting and ends the album on a bit of a sour note, but it’s not hard to ignore.  Also, despite the mention of a wizard rock band, this is also a “Most Decidedly NOT Meta-Wrock” song.

Now, before I go into wrap-up mode, a couple gripes about the album in general: Firstly, what the hell was up with those pauses at the beginning of the song?  The one for “Conversation” was SIX SECONDS long!  That is way too long, especially if you’re navigating by buttons, and you have to listen to figure out where you are, and it really breaks up the flow of the album.  Now, I did get my copy of the album off of iTunes, maybe it’s different for the CD version, but it really hampers my enjoyment of the album as a whole.  Also, and this is a pretty petty gripe, and it’s probably because I was influenced by the cover, but I was disappointed that at no point in the album was there a larger metaphor connecting Matt’s troubles and inner demons with the character of the Whomping Willow.  It really felt that there was all the set up in the world for something like that, and it seems like a real missed opportunity.

Now, on to the verdict.  As I said in the beginning of this review, this is the worst wizard rock album I have ever heard in my entire life, and it is.  It’s not even truly meta-wrock.  Only 4 out of 10 songs are truly meta-wizard rock, and if only 40% of your album is META-wrock, then it is not a wizard rock album, or even a passable meta-wrock album.

Maybe the reason why I grade so harshly is I just really like this solid gold F

However, purely as an album, as a 37-minute piece of music, Demons at the Helm succeeds.  The lowest points on the album are still highly listenable, and the cleverness inherent in the writing is absolutely superb.  I would recommend you go buy this album based on the at times breathtakingly brilliant lyrics alone, but fortunately, this album has some of Whompy’s best music to date.  Now, it only reaches the upper echelons of what he’s done a couple times, so while it’s at times amazing, it’s mostly merely quite good.  If all you want are more funny tunes about magical trees, then save yourself some heartache and pass this one up.  But if you want an unflinching look into an artist’s soul, then pick up All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, but Demons At The Helm will work too.

Maybe even a B+...

So, what do you think about Demons at the Helm? Love it? Hate it? Think it does count as meta-wrock? Hate me for putting this up a day late?  Hate me for not mentioning bacon? Let me know!


150 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Becca
    May 25, 2010 @ 12:52:56

    Agh. I’ll comment more later, but I really love your utilization of YouTube to emphasize points. I need to take five to listen to more Lion King songs now.


  2. Zoë (Split Seven Ways etc)
    May 25, 2010 @ 12:52:59

    Honestly, it does really bug me that Matt didn’t put this out under his own name rather than as the Whomping Willows but that’s because 1) meta-wrock leaves me cold because I’m not involved in “the scene”, as in shows etc, because of being on another freakin’ continent and 2) this is clearly a muggle album and I have strong feelings about separating the two (at least in terms of direct inspiration – admittedly a lot of Valedictions and other songs have no direct references as such but that was because I was trying to make the Snape/Lily situation more universal OH HEY EPIC SELF-JUSTIFICATION but I hope I make up for that via personal songs and songs about other fandoms being under other names).

    That said, I think it’s probably his best work, although I haven’t heard the new one yet either.

    Goddamn it, I’ve not been this active in any wizard rock arena since before I went on hiatus! I am even considering writing songs again! I blame you 😉


    • Zoë (Split Seven Ways etc)
      May 25, 2010 @ 12:54:04

      Also my opinion on “best work” is due to being a huge fan of the confessional songwriting genre. It takes guts to bare your soul.


      • MaryBeth Schroeder
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:33:46

        Bearing the soul through a song is the reason I make music. I don’t think we let it all out to please others, I think we let it all out because we HAVE to. And THAT’S a songwriter. An artist isn’t someone who WANTS to make art, an artist is someone who HAS to. I like Matt’s album. I think it’s ballsy especially for such a soft-spoken guy.


  3. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:08:54

    Dude. This is absolutely, without question, the best record review I’ve ever read from any writer, about any album. Excellent work.

    I do think we have a fundamental disagreement about the definition of meta-wizard rock, and given your exceptional analysis of lyrics, it’s a bit disappointing that you fail to make the simple leap in logic that these songs have everything to do with my life as a wizard rocker, and that the events I’m singing about wouldn’t have happened if I’d not been in a wizard rock band.

    But whatever. Seriously, this was worth the wait. Thank you!


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:04:48

      Yeah, but say I fall in love with a nice Amish boy that I met at a wizard rock concert (don’t know how he got there, but hey), and then we have a messy breakup, and I write a song about how said I am. If it’s just a very personal song, all about the rainy miasma of my soul and whatnot, and never explicitly mentions wizard rock, how could you argue that it’s a meta-wrock song, even if this wouldn’t have happened to me if it wasn’t for wizard rock?


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 20:14:16

        In that case, I wouldn’t argue that it’s meta-wizard rock. But that situation is completely different from everything on Demons at the Helm, because everything on Demons at the Helm is related to being in a wizard rock band. The fact that it’s my personal experience doesn’t change that reality. You can’t have meta without the “me.” lolz, I just made that up!

        By track (and these are REALLY over-simplified summaries):

        1. About being really excited about touring in a wizard rock band.
        2. About touring in a wizard rock band.
        3. About lots of things, but on the surface it’s about hooking up with a wizard rock merch girl while touring in a wizard rock band.
        4. About touring in a wizard rock band.
        5. About the Whomping Willow seeking help from his friend Hagrid (regardless of whether or not there’s a double-meaning, that’s what the song presents itself as).
        6. About not being able to commit to relationships due to personal hang-ups and also due to the reality that being on the road (in a wizard rock band) 6 months out of the year makes it difficult to be in relationships.
        7. About touring in a wizard rock band.
        8. About temptations that arise when touring in a wizard rock band.
        9. About defeating personal demons while touring in a wizard rock band.
        10. About resolving personal issues and still maintaining the ability to tour in a wizard rock band.


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 21:56:53

          I think we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree on this one. Also, I’m a wizard rock fan, and you are the actual wizard rocker who wrote the album and experienced these things, so we have vastly different mind sets. I mean, I guess to you “A Conversation With Voldemark” was about defeating personal demons while touring in a wizard rock band, while to me, it was about defeating personal demons. I mean, I’m sure this did happen to you while you were touring in a wizard rock band. But based purely on the evidence provided by the song, how I am to know that? All I know is that you’re defeating your personal demons, and if the song provides no context clues or any reasons why I should think that the fact that you are or aren’t touring in a wizard rock band would make anything different, then it’s not a meta-wrock song. But again, I really don’t think either of us is going to convince the other. 😉


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 20:21:48

        I guess my point is that I shouldn’t have to say “I AM IN A WIZARD ROCK BAND” in every song for the listener to gather that I’m singing about being in a wizard rock band.


  4. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:13:17


    “I was disappointed that at no point in the album was there a larger metaphor connecting Matt’s troubles and inner demons with the character of the Whomping Willow. It really felt that there was all the set up in the world for something like that, and it seems like a real missed opportunity.”

    Don’t Let Me Explode covers this pretty thoroughly. The rest of the album fleshes it out.


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:01:00

      Well, as I noted in the article, there’s the line about crushing your friends where they stand, but I was really looking for something more, and I guess more blatant and spelled out, and especially near the end of the album. I just think that would have worked better. But, hey.


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 20:20:16

        I can see your point, for sure. I just think that pushing a metaphor too hard can spoil the metaphor. The tree really is absent from this album once the full band comes in on Explode, but that was a deliberate choice on my part. 🙂


  5. Russ
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:13:29

    Holy shit, why did you start channeling Ayn Rand to write reviews? Long review is LONG.

    Otherwise, good insights. I’m one of those who doesn’t care that it’s not a “tru kvlt wrock album” because for all intents and purposes, Matt IS the Whomping Willows. This album is about The Whomping Willows. So I’m perfectly fine with it being a “meta-wrock” album.

    Let’s face it – eventually you get to the point where there’s not much else you can say without it already having been said in wizard rock. Matt took a different approach to this album; I think it paid off and his fans related on one level or another. It could have been worse – it could have been an album all derived from Snape/Hermione fanfics.

    And dear God in Heaven, NO ONE wants that.

    I am going to agree on the points about “III” as I like rocking out Willows better; however being a big fan of The Jena Campaign I thought this album did a great job of melding Matt’s two musical personas together (not counting Lil’ Whompy, of course). Most of the lyrical observations were pretty good, and showed some effort and critical listening. I don’t happen to agree with much of the musical/instrumental criticism as I find this to be one of the better, more open-sounding albums I’ve heard in wrock. And the issues with silence are looking for fault just so you have more to poke fun at.

    Overall, I’d give this review a C-. You did the research, but got more engrossed in being pithy and tossing smartass remarks out there. If you actually edited the review before posting, it’d be a solid C+/B-. Maybe.


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 13:39:30

      I think my high opinion of this review stems from the Jena Campaign days, when my albums were reviewed frequently but seldom with much thought or analysis. Even the positive reviews were kinda like, “This sounds like what I enjoy listening to. B+!” Even if WrockSnob’s album is wayyyy too long and frequently inaccurate, he still shows an uncommon level of effort, and I appreciate that.


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 19:59:28

      “It could have been worse – it could have been an album all derived from Snape/Hermione fanfics. ”

      OH GOD, I just actually, literally, shivered in fear and revulsion at that thought

      Also, thanks for your critical review of my critical review – it really helps. And I really wish I’d had time to edit before posting, but I literally pressed “post”, put the link on twitter, and ran out the door to go to work.

      Also, I really wasn’t looking hard for extra things to make fun of with the issue of silence – it really, truly annoys me. Firstly, in that little gap in the first song, I really think if it had been just a couple seconds shorter, it would be a better song, because it always drags on just a bit too long for me, and long silent gap can be just as annoying as a random bit of static or something. And as for the silence at the beginning, six seconds is WAY TO FREAKIN’ LONG, because at least for me, I listen to a lot of music on my mac laptop, and it’s got these hotkeys on the FNumber row with skip back, play/pause, and skip forward, so if I’m navigating without looking at iTunes, those pauses really add up when trying to figure out where I am, plus, if I want to go back, by the time the song has actually started I’m far enough in the song that pressing skip back just takes me to the beginning, and then I get stuck in a loop before I realize what’s going on.

      I mean, it’s not a really big deal, certainly not enough to lower a grade by itself or anything, but it definitely wasn’t tacked on just because I was running out of things to make fun of – it was one of my few gripes with the album as a whole.

      Again, thanks for your review of my review – it really does help!


  6. Abby
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:17:44

    That “thrrooomp” sound… thats the sound of callused fingers sliding down guitar strings. It’s unavoidable at times and when someone really plays well, it can even be used to enhance the mood of a song. To me, it’s the sound of a master at his craft…. someone who plays so much that even the texture of their fingers becomes part of the music. I really love it, personally.

    As for the rest of what you said…I won’t comment on your opinion cuz I think all opinions are valid… so I have no place to disagree with you.
    But as for your writing… dude. Don’t jump around so much and learn to make your point in less words. Wowza. You know how much I love you and all, but maybe you need to take a quick refresher course in communication writing. It was kind hard to pick your points out. Sorry for being harsh… but I’m always gunna be straight with you. ❤


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:07:56

      Yeah, this review really needs some hardcore editing, but I decided to put it out instead of delaying it for another 12 hours to edit it. And you have no reason to apologize for given me critiques on how I do this thing. After all, that’s the entire point of this blog, right? Critiquing people on their craft? If I’m to improve my craft at all, I need people critiquing me as well. So, thanks for your straight talk! (Though I hate using that phrase, since it’s been rendered absolutely meaningless by a cavalcade of politicians bandying it around)


  7. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:25:44

    Two more comments (sorry):

    1. Regardless of how you define meta-wizard rock, my primary justification for releasing this album under The Whomping Willows moniker is that The Whomping Willows is my band, and therefore I can do whatever I want with it. I knew there was a risk of isolating wizard rock fans who just want to hear more songs about Harry Potter, but I’ve never really been the type to produce plot summaries in musical form (if I was that type, the Whomping Willows wouldn’t have survived past one or two albums — read the Harry Potter series to find out why). I tried to soften the risk by releasing that extensive album preview, and letting people know ahead of time that this wasn’t really a wizard rock album.

    2. Of the many functions this album serves, one is that it’s sort of an extended apology for the way I behaved in 2007 and 2008. Not that I really ever did anything horrible, but I made some mistakes along the way and this album was a means of expressing my guilt and also telling the story of redemption that is highly relevant to my life as a wizard rocker. I understand if people aren’t interested in that story, because everyone has their own stories to worry about and mine isn’t really all that exceptional in my opinion. Still, this album was necessary for my own peace of mind, and I’m happy with it.

    I’ll shut up now. 🙂


    • Zoë (Split Seven Ways etc)
      May 25, 2010 @ 13:50:40

      Fair enough on why you released it under the Whomping Willows name 🙂 like I said, it’s just my personal view on what I do with my own music colouring my opinions on other people’s valid choices. Either way I am glad the album exists!


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 13:54:56

        Well, I also totally understand why people would have a problem with Demons being labeled wizard rock, because on many levels it isn’t. At the same time, it’s ABOUT wizard rock, because the themes of the album are fairly common among wizard rockers, even if no one else has the balls to admit it. 🙂


  8. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:42:52

    Ok, ONE MORE THING. haha

    I think your reviews would be better if you didn’t try so hard to elicit a reaction from readers.


    • Sarawkweird
      May 25, 2010 @ 15:11:42

      Word. People are already reading and responding to them. There is no reason for you to attempt to catch their attention by using such harsh dichotomous language. Obviously this is “the wrock snob” but seriously, it is possible to be critical without being a…well a snob. Speaking as a general liker of everything, I am too busy trying to figure out how such a person manages to exist, to respect the articles as critical opinion. I think you have potential to spark a lot of discussion about musical and lyrical quality, that will help wrock musicians better understand how their audience truly reacts to their music, but you loose your reader by trying too hard to piss them off.


      • wrocksnob
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:23:15

        Thanks for the feedback – could you point out specific examples of where you feel I distracted you from the points I was trying to make with divisive language?


  9. Arka
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:53:30

    I’ve finally made it to the end of the review, and I’m very impressed. I agree with Whompy and I think you can tell how the album relates to wizard rock as a whole, and given the context it’s all pretty fitting and beautiful.

    But I can’t complain because that was quite a staggering analysis!


  10. Becca
    May 25, 2010 @ 14:17:30

    I finally finished the whoooole thing, plus the youtube links, while listening to each song, or at least the ones that I could find, as i read each review.

    I thought it was pretty solid as a whole, but you already put sooooo much time , thought, and effort into writing this thing, you should take an extra few hours to put it together more comprehensively! Or elicit the help of a friend who can edit it for you to improve the flow. Seriously, for your readers’ sake.

    That said, I didn’t agree with some of the parts of the review, but I thank you for forcing me to give more consideration to songs that I haven’t spent a lot of time with and for making me nostalgic for more Matt songs. Certainly lit a fire under my nethers to go buy his latest album!

    Will you be evaluating the meta-rockness of all the future albums too? Maybe this is just a me thing, but I don’t really give a crap if a song falls under wizard rock, meta-rock, or just rock. If it’s good, that’s what counts and that’s what I want to read a review about.

    There’s plenty of pissing and moaning over bands writing about the books vs their life and people probably won’t change their stance on that, but a solid review of the music and lyrics can be invaluable to fans who might write off an album like this for not being tied to the HP theme a much as his previous work.


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 14:25:11

      I agree. Wizard rock’s been around for nearly a decade, and many wizard rock bands have been around for 4 to 5 years at this point. If bands keep churning out the plot summaries, eventually there’s going to be a dead end.


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:34:42

      Yeah, I’m really going to put some thought and consideration into the editing aspect of things. Also, I’m not going to be evaluating the meta-wrockness of all future albums, but this album was touted as a meta-wrock album, and I disagreed with that, so I spent a lot of time explaining my reasons for disagreeing. Also also, I like my youtube links. I like them a lot. Eventually, there’s gonna be a review that is just entirely comprised of links.


  11. Brad Ausrotas
    May 25, 2010 @ 14:25:01

    Brilliant review, though there were some mistakes (I chalk that up to how long it took you to write it), and you were being a bit petty at times, but overall, good stuff. I’m also loving how Matt is providing his own side of things, too. It really helps in understanding the album.


  12. Amanda Rumm
    May 25, 2010 @ 14:40:03

    I’ll start by saying that, while the review was excruciatingly long, it was worth reading. The amount of effort put into fleshing out the album, and the clear appreciation of music in general, is what makes it so much more… legitimate.
    Also, I think that despite its insistence of the lack of wizard or metawrock songs, the review made me appreciate Demons At The Helm more so than before. The album is powerful and it’s real. I don’t think it should matter whether or not it’s solely from Whompy’s point of view or from Matt’s. As Matt said, it’s his band. He really has the right to put out whatever songs he wants under the name.
    Lastly, I have to commend Matt here. What made this review all the better was his reaction. He really is one of the coolest celebrities in the fandom in the way that he’s so down-to-Earth and accepting of everyone and their opinions. He doesn’t let things bother him. Even before this review came out, he was eagerly awaiting it, not at all worried that his album might be trashed.
    And so I leave now with congratulations on another splendid post, and my promise to return for the next one.

    (Also, I realize that in the amount of time it took me to read all of this and reply to it, my comment might seem completely out of place amongst the existing ones that no doubt got posted during that time. But refreshing now would mean a lot of changes, and I don’t have that much effort to put into this xD )


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:44:43

      Well, overall I think this review was stellar. Even if he left it as an F on all counts, I’d still appreciate the effort he put into it. Also, I pretty much live on the internet when I’m not touring, so I have plenty of time to respond in detail. haha. But seriously, one guy’s opinion is not going to affect the way I feel about myself or my music, so if he’d trashed it I wouldn’t have flinched. But he didn’t, and I’d even say this review is pretty overwhelmingly positive, which is worth a few smiles any day. 🙂


      • MaryBeth Schroeder
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:52:30

        You are very gracious, M-dawg (can I call you M-dawg, your eminence? would it be confusing for I am ALSO M-dawg?) and I know a lot of artists who tear their hair out at the sight of a bad review. Gracious and authentic.

        (Also when you said you “live on the internet” I pictured a little cottage (a fixer upper but with real potential) on the google home page with you casually doing some gardening in the front yard, gleefully waving to google searchers as they walk by your internet address.)


  13. Bradley M.
    May 25, 2010 @ 15:26:06

    I too, think that it was a well thought out and thoroughly contemplated review. As an album review, I give it a B. As a piece of 19th century Russian literature, however, I give it an F. I know you warned everyone ahead of time that it wasn’t 19th century Russian literature, but this wasn’t even meta-19th century Russian literature. I mean c’mon, where were the peasants?


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:25:04

      BEST. COMMENT. EVER. I will try to fit in more peasant next time.


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:31:50

        I think he was making fun of you, albeit affectionately. 🙂

        Also, I agree that this is the best comment ever. It’s very similar to my #WrockSnobSpoilers tweet from yesterday:

        “Demons at the Helm doesn’t try to emulate Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, but I still think it fails to do so anyway.” #WrockSnobSpoilers


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 22:18:01

          OH GOD HOW DID I MISS THOSE. And yeah, I got that he making fun of me, but it was so damn funny, I felt it better to play along than offer up my reasons for why I graded the way I graded (most of the reasons boil down to “I just really, really like that giant solid gold F”)


    • cristiline
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:26:10

      Why is there no upvoting on wordpress? 😦


    • tina.
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:43:45

      I just this, brilliant 🙂


    • Camie
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:54:46

      Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnd Brad wins the thread….


    • Bradley M.
      May 26, 2010 @ 07:12:12

      Yes, twas affectionate indeed. 🙂


  14. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 16:15:52

    Okay. At the risk of looking like a jackass, I’mma just point out a few examples of where you were sloppy (and my intention is to encourage you to hone your craft for future reviews, not be a bitch or be critical of you, because honestly the fact that you’re writing reviews like this at such a young age is really impressive, and I think you may have a future in music blogging if you continue working at it):

    1. Your statement that Demons is the worst wizard rock album you’ve ever heard is obviously your biggest attempt to cause a reaction — and yet it’s rendered empty by the fact that you contradict this claim in multiple ways. First, you argue that Demons actually isn’t a wizard rock album, and if it isn’t a wizard rock album, then it can’t be the worst wizard rock album. Second, most of your in-depth review is very positive, sometimes even glowingly positive.

    2. In the second paragraph of the review, you state that the album is “pretty good” as a muggle album. Later, you describe the album as such: “The lowest points on the album are still highly listenable, and the cleverness inherent in the writing is absolutely superb. I would recommend you go buy this album based on the at times breathtakingly brilliant lyrics alone, but fortunately, this album has some of Whompy’s best music to date. Now, it only reaches the upper echelons of what he’s done a couple times, so while it’s at times amazing, it’s mostly merely quite good.” All of which is way more positive than “pretty good.”

    3. You state that I Killed My Owl is the only song from my first album that’s among my most popular songs. Flying Car is from my first album, and it’s in my top five for individual song sales on iTunes, and it’s also one of the most frequently requested songs at shows. I Killed My Owl isn’t nearly as popular as Flying Car, and it’s probably not even the second or third most popular song on the album (I’m Made of Wands and When You Touched Me In That Special Place probably beat it out).

    4. The “electric bass” enters Don’t Let Me Explode as soon as the drums and second rhythm guitar do.

    5. While much of your lyrical analysis was as spot on as it can be considering you’re not me, you missed the boat pretty drastically on A Brief Repose:

    “There are a few throw-away references to touring, but it’s really not about that. It’s about the stress of the lifestyle getting to him, and while that might seem like that’s ripe for the meta-fruit picking, the song is all about the cracking, not about all the things that happened to get him to that point.”

    Verse and chorus #1 are about touring with The Remus Lupins in summer 2007. Verse and chorus #2 are about recent tours and the friends I’ve made along the way — specifically, I reference my friendship with Freya and her husband JP and their fine city of Pittsburgh. Chorus #3 is about coming home from touring, and how each time I’m home it’s really more of a layover between tours. A Brief Repose is about the stress of the lifestyle (of touring btw) to some extent, but it’s mostly about the support I get from friends and fans and how they make the stress a lot easier to deal with.


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:38:20

      Firstly, thanks SO MUCH for some specific points at where I messed up – it really, really helps. I will be going over your first point, and a lot of other things in-depth tomorrow.
      I will say that it was completely intentional to make things that way – one of my favorite things I like to do in any sort of writing is to mess with expectations and do quick twists and things like that. For example, I was recently taking a creative writing class, where the teacher insisted on “literary fiction” – i.e. boring real life stuff. So, I started off my story talking about space dragons, and then zoomed the camera back to show that it was just in a video game. Also, the fact that it isn’t a wizard rock album is why it’s the worst wizard rock album I’ve ever heard. The same way that a perfectly nice cat at the Westminster County Dog Show will go down in history as the worst entrant ever received at the competition.

      As to your second point, editing of any type would have drastically improved the consistency of the tone, something I plan to rectify later. Also, I think the album may have grew on me, because I wrote the first couple of paragraphs only listening to the album once for the first time in a few months, and by the end of the article, I had listened to the entire thing at least six or seven times.

      3. FUCK, FLYING CAR, HOW DID I MISS THAT ONE? Really, I have no idea.

      4. Yeah, again, editing would have clarified my point – later in the song, there’s that cool very audible downwards bass walk to accent the end of a couple lines. And really, the bass isn’t too noticeable in most of the song, but then again, it is the bass.

      5. To properly respond to this I’d have to listen to the song again, and forgive me, but I think I’m going to have to take a bit of a break from this album to avoid becoming burnt-out.

      Again, thanks for the great feedback!


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:44:42

        No problem! Thanks for not being upset that I nitpicked! I figure we’re even on that count. 😀

        “The same way that a perfectly nice cat at the Westminster County Dog Show will go down in history as the worst entrant ever received at the competition.”

        This analogy doesn’t work, because you’ve made room for the fact that the cat is not a dog, but an entrant in a contest (and still a cat).


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 21:52:20

        PS. I think Demons IS a wizard rock album, but you don’t, and therefore it shouldn’t be ranked anywhere on your list of best-to-worst wizard rock albums. However, if you eventually concede the meta debate (which I’ve clearly won, and overwhelmingly at that), then you can grade Demons as a wizard rock album all you want. However, conceding the meta debate would force you to consider this album purely on its lyrical and musical merits, and you’ve already given those aspects a fanciful B.

        See how I painted you into a corner? 😀


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 22:24:41

          You’ve only painted me into a corner if I agree that I have conceded the meta debate (and this right here is now meta-meta-debate), which, at least, hasn’t happened yet! 🙂


  15. David
    May 25, 2010 @ 17:39:40

    Very interesting and thoughtful review. I think i’ll read it again tomorrow (while listening to the album) before making comments. I can already tell I’m not going to agree with everything you said, but then that’s never likely to happen. Full marks for effort certainly, and I really like the lyrical analysis.

    As much as I wasn’t a fan of this idea when I first saw it, since I’m not convinced a community-focused genre really needs critical analysis like an industry does, I like the discussions it’s prompting and I can’t say as I’ve *strongly* disagreed with much you’ve said so far. I’m definitely impressed with the way you’re being critical without being particularly mean or unbalanced.

    Like I say though, longer comment tomorrow.


  16. Russ
    May 25, 2010 @ 18:04:08

    You’re trying to make him into the new Lester Bangs, aren’t you?


    In all seriousness – if this skullfuckingly honest blog is going to churn out reviews for the forseeable future, I completely agree with Matt and reference my comments above. Editing, more honest reaction (which there was plenty of) and less fishing for drama could make this blog a HUGE success. You’ve already succeeded in stirring things up here and getting people to talk. Just my $0.02.


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 18:42:04

      I’ll also just add that when reviewing albums, you don’t need to go through every song individually. Albums are a single unit, a group of parts that make a whole, and can/should be reviewed as such.


      • Crabbe and the Goyles
        May 25, 2010 @ 19:11:10

        I disagree. I think individual songs should be reviewed if they have a particular shine or dullness to them.

        I think the difference is how in depth a song should go. If it’s par for the course it shouldn’t be discussed much, but if a song purely stands out as a single I’d like to know about it (and A Brief Repose is my second favorite song by you by the way behind Wizard Rock Hearth Throb though Fall In Love Tonight is rising up on my favs really quickly, and I’m glad it got such an intensive look over by WrockSnob). And if certain songs aren’t good I’d like to know. You can’t just look at a finished puzzle and say “wow, that picture’s pretty” when there’s obvious effort and time spent putting that puzzle together. I’d like to know if some pieces of the puzzles are just squares shoved together or intricately placed.

        I (and I guess I’m the only one) liked WrockSnobs wordiness. Having never listened to Demons At The Helm in its full length (sorry wrockers) it really helped from my point of view and actually the review made me want to purchase the album.


      • cristiline
        May 25, 2010 @ 20:27:44

        I kind of agree with Crabbe and the Goyles. Of course, it’s by no means necessary to review an album song-by-song, I really enjoy wrocksnob’s method. Perhaps it’s because I personally, having never really listened to music before wrock, am not very good at analyzing songs (I often find it hard just to focus on/discern lyrics), but I really like how wrocksnob points out things that I often miss. It gives me much more appreciation for the songs and for your album as a whole.

        Of course, a lot of the flaws you pointed out in an earlier comment still stand, but based purely on the song-by-song aspect? I like it.


      • MaryBeth Schroeder
        May 25, 2010 @ 22:00:22

        That’s what I didn’t like about the review, the description of every single song. I mean, if Rolling Stone did that, there would be Moby Dicks weighing down the magazine shelves of Borders Books. AND not have enough room for sexy pictures of Rihanna.


  17. Chloe
    May 25, 2010 @ 18:52:54

    Ok, so let me say that at first I would have agreed with Zoe about the whole wizard-rock-should-be-about-harry-potter thing, and I was unsure about buying DatH at first. But, I’m from Ohio, and as Matt has pointed out, we have a bit of a competitive streak when it comes to states competitions :). And listening to the album COMPLETELY CHANGED MY MIND because it is amazing. Not quite what I’d listen to if I wanted some legit potter-centric music, but I think the artist’s intention should always be considered, and Matt intended this to be a wizard rock album. It does have throwbacks to his previous work, and I think if you look at it as part of The Womping Willows’ stuff, it fits in nicely.

    As for your review, I like that you took the time to consider the lyrics, because clever/fun/brilliant lyrics are why I love Whompy, and it’s why I love this CD. So points for that. BUUUTTTT…as an English major and and editor, if you had written this for anything but a blog, your editor would want to kill you. There’s something to be said for the freedom of blogging and being “skullfuckingly honest,” but at the same time, it’s also nice if your readers don’t have to schedule time to read you. So yeah, I have to agree with everyone else’s comments: Editting a tiny bit would make us happy. Or even providing a “condensed” version of your review when it gets this long.

    But yeah, I appreciate your links. And I kind of enjoy your “drama-mongering.” It’s your style, and it causes a buzz. Maybe it’ll get annoying, I dunno, but at the moment, fishing for drama is your “hook,” so fish away, dude, and I look forward to Wednesday (tomorrow)!


  18. tina.
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:08:31

    I don’t know, I have short attention span, but did you have definition for Wizard Rock that would rule out Demons at the Helm as a Wizard Rock CD?
    Cause that made me kinda giggle.
    My favorite part about this CD is that it isn’t a rehash of old ideas. It’s the progression and growth of a character Matt has created and somewhat grown to be. The Whomping Willow Tree was a thing, Matt made it a he 🙂
    I’d hate if Wizard Rock was confined to only the ‘scripture’ I think Wizard Rock would be half as clever in general if artists did not put a little imagination in to it and half its heart if people didn’t ‘live through’ their work.
    If you think for one second that Wizard Rock is only about Harry Potter and who knows who tied their shoe book three page 24, then I am hoping for your awakening on the fact that it’s artists and it’s community. In no way should a CD that reflects an artist’s journey through the fandom and personal experiences be graded any less than one than Jim Dale’s audio books set to music. I love those audio books, but they ain’t Wizard Rock, they are just Harry Potter 🙂


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:48:20

      Wizard rock is music about Harry Potter. DatH was music about Matt Maggiacomo.
      Meta-wrock is music about wizard rock. In my opinion, DatH was music that was more about Matt Maggiacomo than wizard rock.
      This doesn’t mean that DatH is any of less of any album in any way because of how one person on the internet categorizes his music collection (funnily enough, I do have the genre for DatH set in my iTunes as “wizard rock”), it just means that people who are looking for funny rehashes of the Harry Potter books told from the perspective of a magical talking tree would do better to look elsewhere.


      • tina.
        May 25, 2010 @ 22:09:28

        The wheel doesn’t turn itself and how dare you insinuate that it isn’t valid Wizard Rock in the direction that a lot of Wizard Rock artists are heading? The ages and stages of the wrockers I have known, I can only cheer them on to conquer more art.
        Matt is a huge part of this movement. If you’d rather take out all of that and the extended works of others than you put yourself on a plane to Nowheresville, WR. You have yet to give a clear definition of your Wizard Rock. My Wizard Rock accepts all just like the House of Awesome-that’s truly where it’s at!
        Meta- Wizard Rock is about Wizard Rock? That was the definition I was waiting for, my impression is that this album is a reflection on Matt’s Wizard Rock experience. Therefore it qualifies, hello, McFly?
        If your looking for the POE(purity of essence) than stay in your static bubble.
        You lack heart and soul, could have guessed that from a distraught and disappointed MoM fan PHLLLB!
        EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS, sunshine 🙂


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 22:48:55

          Firstly, you don’t need to explain a Dr. Strangelove reference to me 😉

          And to be honest, I truly am mystified why you’re mad at me. I think this comes down to definitions. When I think “I want to listen to some wizard rock”, I want to listen to some plot rehashes, or speculative fan fiction in musical form, or whatever. Also, when did I say I wanted to take out all of Matt’s work? I agree, that would be a travesty. And if there is someday a Museum of Wizard Rock, Demons at the Helm should definitely be included in it. Also, your impression is that the album was a reflection on Matt’s Wizard Rock experience. My impression of the album was that the album was a reflection on Matt’s Wizard Rock experience for the first 3 or 4 songs, and the rest were reflections on Matt’s experience being Matt.

          Also, yes, I was disappointed by O&U, but certainly not distraught. I mean, they are barely in my top ten wizard rock bands, if that. As to expanding my horizons, allow me if I take issue with that, since one of my favorite wizard rock songs ever comes from a tiny Swedish band with, like, 14 friends, and my favorite wizard rock album of all time is by a man with a terrible, terrible voice pretending he’s a cephalopod.

          Though there is an interesting point to be raised there – why do I count Death To Humans as wizard rock , even though much of the album is an exercise in character building, and you could call the album more of a squid-rock album with an HP tinge than vice versa, when I don’t count DatH as even meta-wrock? If Whompy had crafted an album about a fictional wizard rocker’s trials and tribulations, would I have accepted it as meta-wrock, or even wrock? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something I will ponder upon.

          Lastly, my blood still seems to be flowing, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got a heart. As for a soul… that one’s up for debate.


      • tina.
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:10:49

        The Dr. Strangelove reference; General Jack RIpper, feels his water supply(his life source) is threatened by Flouride(man-derived additive) he seals of his base and fights solo and hardcore, sends out an all attack on what he feels has caused the disruption of POE, communism/socialism. Making broad assumptions for the masses and curving their direction may be seen as such. By trying to rid the world of the larger groups, he becomes a fascist.
        Just saying, give yourself time, sink into the community end, altho flawed, I can’t say that I’ve met a better bunch. I think that the folks who have responded are fond of you in general. I for one have enjoyed the debate 🙂 But, find some peace in your protection of POE and realize the artists are real people who live through this, just my advice.
        And, you don’t have to tell me about what obscure band you love. You the power to review it. I think your accidently popular. I think a lot of people want to feel free to hash these subjects out.
        I’m totally not mad, I just come off aggressive 🙂


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 23:21:25

          Um, are you just straight up trolling me now? I mean, thanks for the recap of a movie I’ve seen 10 times and all, but… I do realize that artists are real people. They also are people that presumably want to get better at their craft. I don’t think a little harsh non-ad-hominim criticism from one lone blogger is going to do any damage to them. Also, you accused me of having narrow horizons, which is why I retorted. Also, I agree a lot of people want to feel free to hash these subjects out, and a lot of people have right here. I’m not stopping them. I could preface every sentence I write with “The following is purely my opinion, and is in no way meant to imply that your opinion is any less valid”, but that would make for a TERRIBLE review.


      • tina.
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:21:08

        I meant to mention that the POE of Wizard Rock is the direct line to accurate reflections on J.K.’s work. The ‘flouride aditives’ are tainted versions…
        goodnight 🙂


      • tina.
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:36:32

        I don’t know exactly know what trolling is, but does it have to do with you reading between lines and trying to get paranoid and defensive?
        Seriously, what struck me is you tried to say that TWW’s effort was not a grade A Wizard Rock effort. I was merely trying to point out that your dead wrong from what you present as your base???
        Which is still up in the air?
        Broaden your horizons? I think I can continue to say that without regret until you answer some of my questions.
        Q &U= F
        What do you like?
        You can’t post two effs without a call for WTeffs 🙂


        • wrocksnob
          May 26, 2010 @ 10:59:55

          Um… did you notice the giant B? Also, firstly, I didn’t think it was grade A. I think it was grade B. I don’t see how my, anyone’s opinions can be dead wrong. Also, by the way I categorize things, it wasn’t wizard rock. I really don’t see how this should be such a big deal – I still loved the album, but it wasn’t music about Harry Potter, or in my opinion, mostly music about wizard rocking. Do I still think everyone should go pick it up? Yes, definitely.


      • tina.
        May 26, 2010 @ 11:14:48

        I’d really like to review of something you grade a B or an A that you consider Wizard Rock. Ithink that’ll at least help me(maybe) understand why other efforts are better.


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 21:48:44

      Also, the Stephen Fry audiobooks are SO much better than the Jim Dale ones.


  19. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:38:34

    @Crabbe and the Goyles:

    I’m not saying that he shouldn’t review albums song by song, I just mean that he shouldn’t feel obligated to do so, and he might be able to craft just as effective a review in a much shorter span if he breaks from that format.

    Compare this review to Freya’s review of Wizard Party Forever!!! on the ‘pedia. Very different styles, but I think they both accomplish a lot. Just a suggestion, because it seems like a fair number of readers have felt a bit turned off by the length of this review, and it might keep readers coming back if they don’t feel bogged down by the length.


    • Crabbe and the Goyles
      May 25, 2010 @ 20:46:41

      Actually I really hated that review on the ‘pedia. I felt like it didn’t give me enough to work with. As stated, my wrock knowledge isn’t that expansive (I’m usually too poor to buy albums, yay college) so those kinds of reviews give me nothing to work off of. It’s just assumed I’ve already heard all your other stuff and know exactly what’s being talked about. And most of what I knew of you before was what I’d seen on We Are Wizards, your myspace, and random youtube searched. It wasn’t until I saw a couple videos of you explaining Wizard Party Forever!!! and repeating some songs on your myspace over and over again that I decided to get it. The review did not affect the decision at all since (to put it bluntly) just seemed like a fangirl post.

      As said I think that’s the big issue with the WrockSnob. His audience. If the blog is just for bands and people who have already been in the genre for years, I completely agree these reviews would be tedious and dull since you’d already know what he’s talking about. For people like me who’ve only been in the scene a year or two and are still trying to catch up, it’s really helpful to get this in depth coverage because now I know to look more at III and your EP as those tend to be discussed highly. But I also know that if I want to “get to know you better” so to speak, this could be a route to go.

      It might also be because I’m obsessed with music generally so I like hearing anything/everything that someone has to say on it. Gives us more to debate about if more points can be brought up. Like when I read Rolling Stone reviews. If the review is one paragraph I feel like they’ve given me nothing for the basis of if an album is worth purchasing (and I’ve made some poor decisions that way) whereas longer reviews really let me know what I need to know from many different viewpoints.

      I mean, look at my response! It’s so long winded and I’m essentially just repeating myself over and over, but it’s for clarity’s sake and it helps advance my point / position.


  20. tina.
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:53:58

    Oh and, if I had to grade this review, a C+. It’s way to long and I kinda agree with Abby on her sentiments, altho she can be a bit harsh when it comes to writing.
    I’ve written for my local paper and totally appreciate that the editor slaughters out half of what I say to make my points clear. Maybe next time don’t be so rushed. I was totally joking about waiting all day, maybe next time write it, put it away for a day and go back in, OR ask Abby edit it 🙂
    Did you like that run on 🙂
    What is the grading system? I’d kinda like to know.


    • Abby
      May 26, 2010 @ 07:14:16

      Hey….. Leave me outta this, yeah?
      Grind your axe elsewhere.


      • tina.
        May 26, 2010 @ 11:10:00

        This public forum, I responded in agreement with you and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea if he had an editor or sat on it before publishing. I’m sorry if it appears that I was grinding an axe and misusing your name.


  21. Mundungus
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:11:54

    In my opinion, the whole “is it meta? is it wrock?” thing, while interesting in terms of discussion, is not a great way to judge an album. I mean, most people know Matt Maggiacomo is The Whomping Willows. And a lot of people know him personally on some level. To me, this album had everything to do with wizard rock, even if it had practically nothing to do with Harry Potter. The fact that it was deeply personal and left a lot open to interpretation just made it better in my listening. I can see how casual fans that just want to hear tunes about characters in the books would be a little turned off, but for people that have a lot tied up in this community I think this album would be really refreshing and groundbreaking. Like Tina said, “it’s artists and it’s community.” It was obvious to me that this was all about an artist’s journey through a community/fandom and how it affected them their lifestyle, relationships etc. I think that’s a natural progression for a songwriter, particularly in a genre such as this. Mostly I just love the album though, and on a musical level, it seems like Wrocksnob digs it, too.


  22. ian
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:19:19

    First, I would like to say Matt is a musician, and an artist. Wrocksnob has taken the huge responsibility of defining art for us, thank you! We, “the unenlightened masses” need so desperately your admittedly naive musical prowess, and artistic criticism.
    Matt is The Whomping Willows, his feelings and thoughts are The Whomping Willows, therefore, in his words he is free to do what he wants with it. End of story.
    I’m sorry, Wrocksnob is not the next “Lester Bangs” more like a government official from from the 80’s Reagan Administration trying to decide “What is Art?”


  23. ian
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:53:40

    Once again my post has gone missing….?


  24. ian
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:54:36

    OK…..there it is.


  25. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:07:06

    “Also, I’m a wizard rock fan, and you are the actual wizard rocker who wrote the album and experienced these things, so we have vastly different mind sets.”


    “I mean, I’m sure this did happen to you while you were touring in a wizard rock band.”

    Awesome! So you agree that it’s meta-wizard rock then? 🙂

    “But based purely on the evidence provided by the song, how I am to know that? All I know is that you’re defeating your personal demons, and if the song provides no context clues or any reasons why I should think that the fact that you are or aren’t touring in a wizard rock band would make anything different, then it’s not a meta-wrock song.”

    Well. This is where I ask the listener to make a very, very simple leap in logic. The album itself provides the framework for you to make that leap. Remember that time I encouraged you to pay attention to the narrative arc of the album while considering the meta-ness of it? The story is fully fleshed out from beginning to end — each part need not remind the listener what the story is about. Would you have enjoyed Harry Potter if J.K. Rowling reminded you in every chapter that you were reading a fictional story about a boy wizard? Probably not. That sort of over-stating the obvious is completely unnecessary.

    Regardless, consider the last verse of Conversation:

    “Away with you demon for I must seek the truth
    It lies not in a bottle or the embrace of the noose
    (emphasis mine)

    Those lines reference the songwriting process — specifically, the process of writing wizard rock songs because that’s all I do these days.

    This song is about how wizard rock ultimately saved my life. Rather than saying “WIZARD ROCK SAVED MY LIFE,” I chose to operate poetically.


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 22:09:48

      And if that doesn’t convince you that Demons is meta-wizard rock, then I think you’re just afraid of admitting that you’re wrong. 🙂


    • wrocksnob
      May 25, 2010 @ 22:33:52

      Firstly, I’m really glad that that emphasis is yours, because if it wasn’t, that would have REALLY ruined the ending of that song for me. And I see your point, but all the last line signifies is that writing music saved your life, not wizard rock. And I am aware that this is getting pretty damn petty now. And you make a good point with the Jo Rowling analogy, but to me, it just isn’t meta wizard rock by the admittedly rather narrow way I’ve defined it. That doesn’t mean it is any less of an album in any way, it’s the way I choose to characterize it. And when and if I do a massive edit of the review, I’m probably going to get rid of the whole “WORST WROCK ALBUM EVAR” and giant gold F (though I will miss it so), mostly because I now see it as unnecessarily trying to provoke a reaction. I think I was trying to get haters to read just so they could hate me, and then I would suckerpunch them with Vaguely Similar Viewpoints!


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 22:37:01

        “And I see your point, but all the last line signifies is that writing music saved your life, not wizard rock.”

        I mean this in the friendliest way possible (and I only say that because the internet often skews tone): You’re not dumb, so you should stop playing dumb for the sake of clinging to a point. Really.


        • wrocksnob
          May 25, 2010 @ 22:53:44

          I’m being straight up honest with you, I’m not playing dumb or anything. But the way I define meta-wrock is that it should still hold up as meta-wrock upon random shuffling your library. Do I hold the same stringent standards for regular wrock? No. Am I a bit of a hypocrite? Maybe. I mean, this whole discussion is pretty abstract – we’re essentially arguing definitions, and as a proud Master Debater, definition debates can go on indefinitely.


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 22:41:06

        And what this really boils down to is your inability to see the forest for the trees.


      • David
        May 26, 2010 @ 10:31:44

        Meh. To be honest Matt, wrocksnob’s definition seems fairly consistent to me. He’s saying that those lines, *with no prior knowledge assumed*, are not meta-wizard rock. if you singled them out and gave them to a random person, then clearly that’s true since they don’t explicitly mention wizard rock or Harry Potter. There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with that definition as such, I just personally don’t like it and wouldn’t define meta-wizard rock in that way.

        I also think the whole concept of classification is flawed. Like when they try to classify planets and pluto no longer qualifies… astronomical bodies are a continuum, like most things, and arguing about classification is usually a big waste of time.


      • David
        May 26, 2010 @ 10:33:57

        Just to add, I haven’t read the whole discussion and was replying to just this part of it, so I might be missing something.


      • Alli
        May 26, 2010 @ 11:34:42

        “And when and if I do a massive edit of the review, I’m probably going to get rid of the whole “WORST WROCK ALBUM EVAR” and giant gold F (though I will miss it so), mostly because I now see it as unnecessarily trying to provoke a reaction.”

        Have to say I’m glad you’re coming to this realization. I think you’re doing a great thing with honestly reviewing wrock albums (or albums from wrockers, considering your take on Demons), and I don’t think you need to sensationalize anything to get a reaction. We’re listening to you and we want to hear more, just keep being honest and creating great discussion about the music we all love and you’ll keep your audience.


      • David
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:07:24

        I’m really enjoying reading all this, and in typical Hufflepuff fashion, I kinda agree with wrocksnob, kinda agree with Matt and kinda agree with Jace.

        Here are my comments on the whole meta-wizard rock thing:

        I think there are multiple ways of defining meta-wizard rock all of which would be reasonable.

        The first question is: Do you define a genre by the intentions of the creator or the observations of the listener?

        If it’s the intentions of the creator then that’s easy. If Matt says it’s meta-wizard rock, then that’s exactly what it is.

        If it’s the observations of the listener, then you have to ask yourself what knowledge you assume:

        a) You could assume that the listener has knowledge about the band and its history.

        b) You could assume that the listener has knowledge of the thing you’re metaphorising (is that a correct usage? I’ll stick with it for now.) Or..

        c) You could assume that the listener has no knowledge at all.

        If it’s a, then the whole album is meta-wizard rock. If it’s b then I would argue it isn’t (but I’ll get to that in a minute because it’s debatable). If it’s c, then there’s no such thing as meta-wizard rock because the existence of wizard rock doesn’t come under the vague concept of “general knowledge”. So let’s disregard c as a bit silly.

        That leaves three very obvious and fair definitions we could go with for meta-wizard rock, each of which seems perfectly valid to me. Unfortunately though, option b has some grey areas.

        Regarding option b: Think about Wizard Rock itself. You have to have knowledge of Harry Potter to “get” Wizard Rock. However, for it to be wizard rock it also generally speaking has to reference something from the books, like a character name for example. Apply that principle to meta-wizard rock and you have to have knowledge of wizard rock to “get” meta-wizard rock, and the song has to reference something within wizard rock directly. So if one of Matt’s songs doesn’t mention a wizard rock band or something explicitely wizard rock related (for someone who knows about wizard rock), then it’s not meta-wizard rock.

        The reason this is debatable is because you could argue that someone who knows about wizard rock, would also know about the history of the band they’re listening to, and therefore know that since Matt wrote the song it’s about his touring experiences in wizard rock, and therefore is meta-wizard rock after all. In other words, you could argue that if you go with option b), you automatically get option a) at the same time.

        Another possibility is to say that the fact that it says “The Whomping Willows” on the cover is all the explicit-ness you need to apply it to wizard rock, even if you know nothing about The Whomping Willows as a band. I’d tend to disregard this, because it gets back into the realm of the intentions of the creator; if you can just stick a wizard rock name on a non-wizard rock album for example, then that really is just intentions of the creator restated.

        So anyway, in summary I boil it down to these possible definitions:

        1) Meta-wizard rock is defined by the creator’s intentions.
        2) Meta-wizard rock is defined by the listeners observations, assuming that they have knowledge of the band and its history in order to apply meaning to things not stated explicitely.
        3) Meta-wizard rock is defined by the listeners, assuming that they have knowledge of wizard rock in order to understand explicit references.

        I think there are weaknesses with all three definitions. The first doesn’t work because by that logic you could argue that if a band writes obvious classic rock songs, they could call themselves jazz and it would automatically be true. The second isn’t great, because if Matt ever wrote an incredibly subtle song about some experience he had and released it online, close friends of Matt might see it as meta-wizard rock, and others just wouldn’t get it. The third isn’t great because it means there would be songs which any wizard rock fan would identify as being about wizard rock (since they have knowledge of The Whomping Willows) but which wasn’t meta-wizard rock simply because a single word or phrase wasn’t used.

        And ultimately this shows why having strict definitions is so very problematic. I actually can’t think of a definition of meta-wizard rock which doesn’t have a flaw. We need definitions to communicate with each other, but when we start to argue about details of definitions in ways which won’t really aid communication, it becomes rather pointless. Then again, it must be interesting since I just wrote an essay on something I later declared to be pointless. I guess that’s just the kind of person I am.

        Anyway, my main point is that there are lots of possible definitions, that those definitions are all flawed, but that they can be used consistently if you choose to do so.

        Finally I’d say that I agree with Jace that the debating-style got a little out of control, but I also think encouraging people to form a consistent opinion is a good thing if the person you’re talking to can take it. For example during my teenage years I took my religious beliefs onto debate forums and had them shredded apart… it wasn’t a very nice experience, but I came out of that with even stronger faith and a more refined way of expressing and understanding my belief system, one that’s perfectly consistent and totally bullet-proof.

        That said, do we all need to have a consistent opinion on the definition of meta-wizard rock? Yeah, probably not really important.

        wrocksnob: “definition debates can go on indefinitely”

        Seeing you describing definition debating in terms of in-definition made me happy. I might use that in the future.


      • David
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:10:27

        Um, why did my last reply appear here instead of at the bottom of the page as I intended. *gives wordpress a confused look*


        • wrocksnob
          May 26, 2010 @ 19:15:54

          Because you must have hit “reply” to one of my comments, instead of going all the way to the bottom of the page and then typing your stuff in. This wordpress theme has “threaded” comment boards.


      • David
        May 27, 2010 @ 01:43:24

        That’s the thing… I submitted it in a a reply box right at the bottom. I think it was a bug. Maybe something related to the fact that I clicked reply here first, then later came back and typed my response into the box right at the bottom of the page. Not sure exactly what I did, or how to reproduce it. Oh well.


  26. Camie
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:07:57

    Yes the review was long.
    The review also had some good points.

    Overall, It made me want to listen to the album – So I am.



  27. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:20:18

    MaryBeth said: “An artist isn’t someone who WANTS to make art, an artist is someone who HAS to.”



  28. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:34:59

    MaryBeth said: “if Rolling Stone did that, there would be Moby Dicks weighing down the magazine shelves of Borders Books. AND not have enough room for sexy pictures of Rihanna.”

    At the moment, this blog’s primary value in my life is to make me wish I was better friends with MaryBeth. 🙂


  29. Crabbe and the Goyles
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:48:46

    I vote we just bring back the Dark Lord again, wipe out everyone, and start fresh.


  30. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 22:58:52

    “My impression of the album was that the album was a reflection on Matt’s Wizard Rock experience for the first 3 or 4 songs, and the rest were reflections on Matt’s experience being Matt.”

    For this to be true, you have to be George Bushing it, big time.

    I mean, in one breath you say that All-nighter isn’t wizard rock despite its clearly mentioning Hagrid several times, the next you say you need a clear signifier in Conversation to prove that it’s about wizard rock?

    I dunno. I’m thoroughly enjoying this debate, but that’s mostly because I enjoy winning debates and you’re contradicting yourself a lot.


  31. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 23:00:16

    “But the way I define meta-wrock is that it should still hold up as meta-wrock upon random shuffling your library.”

    And I just told you how Conversation does. 🙂


    • Whompy
      May 25, 2010 @ 23:09:04

      Let’s say Megadeth wrote a song about songwriting. Would you question whether or not they’re referring to writing metal songs if they didn’t specifically categorize their own music as metal? Would you consider it possible that they’re talking about writing jazz songs?


      • tina.
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:13:28

        nobody actually ever questions Megadeth:)


      • wrocksnob
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:15:48

        No, especially if the entire song was about song writing. But if only the last line of the song was about song writing, and the rest was about their addiction to marshmallow peeps, would I classify it as meta-metal? No, despite how cool that word is. Meta-metal. Meta-l? Meta(l)?


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:25:50

        And this is why I say you’re George Bushing it. I mean, whateva. I just think you’ve discredited yourself quite a bit over the course of this discussion, and that’s a bit disappointing. You set out to debate Demons at the Helm’s status as meta-wizard rock, but you refuse to consider it as a whole story? You beg for a single context clue or signifier that a song is about wizard rock, and when one is given to you, you say that you want the entire song to be one big context clue/signifier? Meh.


      • Whompy
        May 25, 2010 @ 23:41:40

        Let me frame this a different way:

        Let’s consider Hey Remus.

        In this song, I talk about this guy Remus. Judging by the lyrics and nothing else, Remus is a guy who left me to be with a woman named Nymphadora (OMG WEIRD NAME). I’m upset about this. I mention something about Remus being a wolf and my having a branch instead of an arm. I also make mention of my treehole, and I mention that Remus is involved in “wizard crap.”

        If you considered this song only based on its lyrical content, it sounds like I’m into a lot of bizarre fetishes.


        That’s the sort of leap of logic I’m asking from the listener on Demons at the Helm. If you’re truly not sure that I’m writing about my experiences in wizard rock, then you and Demons at the Helm exist alone in a vacuum.


  32. Whompy
    May 25, 2010 @ 23:03:13

    “we’re essentially arguing definitions, and as a proud Master Debater, definition debates can go on indefinitely.”

    I’m not arguing definitions. I’m pointing out how each of the songs on Demons is meta-wizard rock based on your own definition. 🙂


  33. thefinalbattle2010
    May 26, 2010 @ 04:05:21

    There is a clear distinction between Wizard Rock and Meta-wizard rock, and this clearly falls as the latter. I agree with everything you said. I absolutely love this album, but not as wizard rock. However, I do agree that this is all up to interpertation!


  34. Zoë (Split Seven Ways etc)
    May 26, 2010 @ 05:25:18

    I wrote a meta tumblr post and I blame you (in a nice way). This is gratuitous and I kind of lost any points I was trying to make in the ensuing explosion but now I can go back to writing…


  35. Grace
    May 26, 2010 @ 07:16:12

    I’d just like to throw out there that the Wrock Snob is not the only person who thinks it’s a stretch to call this entire album meta-wizard rock. There are four songs on the album (Don’t Let Me Explode, Walk, A Conversation with my Demons and A Heart Can Change) that definitely felt to me like they were about Matt Maggiacomo as a person, and the things that helped bring him to the end of this album-narrative. Wizard rock felt like just one part of the influence there. Can we call this a meta-alchohol album? Ha. I mean honestly, Matt, do you think every song on the album loses value if you aren’t familiar with the wizard rock scene? It’s very possible you do, but to me the album felt like it was about a lot of things, and wizard rock just happened to be one of them.

    That said, I really like Demons at the Helm and will almost always prefer a thoughtful Maggiacomo original acoustic song over rocked out tree anthems. 😉 But that’s just personal preference.

    And I know others have already said it, Wrock Snob, but definitely give yourself time to edit pieces before you post them. This would have been a lot shorter and a lot stronger if you’d gone back through it – don’t let a missed deadline encourage you to turn in something with reduced quality. Still, thanks for sparking discussion.


  36. DK Anderson
    May 26, 2010 @ 09:10:20

    Just thought I’d go on record as saying I really couldn’t give a damn how one precisely defines “meta-wrock” (for all that I’m actually writing a very much related essay on that, er…meta-subject). This entire debate not only reminds me of the endless chain of categories and sub-categories of metal (and the huffy “corrections” and generally insufferable pedantry associated therewith…), but it’s also distracting from everything else in this long, detailed review.

    Categorical pigeonholing is pure cancer to art, dear friends…pure cancer.


  37. MaryBeth Schroeder
    May 26, 2010 @ 09:19:56

    “Categorical pigeonholing is pure cancer to art, dear friends…pure cancer.”


    That’s exactly how I wanted to say that. I love you.


  38. Whompy
    May 26, 2010 @ 09:28:23

    Here you go: a complete explanation of Demons at the Helm. I usually prefer to keep this stuff secret and let listeners figure it out, but I’m having fun with this and I couldn’t help it:


    • Russ
      May 26, 2010 @ 17:30:33

      Thanks for that, Matt. Like Grace, I love hearing what artists had in mind when they worked on their songs. I completely agree with leaving some things up to the listener, each person reacts differently, but I love love love knowing what the artist’s approach was.

      Oh yeah and any talk about instruments and gear too 😀


  39. Mandala of Witherwings
    May 26, 2010 @ 09:32:35

    Completely random thoughts in no particular order:

    1. I started my wrock project becasue I was in a muggle band and wanted to try writing my own songs. I attended Phoenix Rising and saw how supportive the community was. I started looking up wrock bands on MySpace and saw that, no matter the skill level, the community welcomed them with open arms.

    In today’s everyone-is-a-critic-and-we-love-to laugh-at the-people-on-American-Idol world, I finally found a SAFE place to play. So when I discovered this blog, I thought “uh-oh.” But you know what? I am okay with it. It was an honest opinion, but wasn’t mean. Matt’s reaction put me back into my safe place. Matt – you are a super guy and I am sure I have told you that. I do say so to others regularly, and if I have not told you, well, a public forum couldn’t be more perfect!

    2. When I first heard these songs, it was when Matt was touring, and my first reaction was, “Huh. These are really like some sort of muggle side project for Matt, I think. I am here to listen to wrock.They are really good though.” An oh MAN to hear them live performed with Justin, Lauren and Nina, Blew. Me. Away.

    That said, this review made me think more about the lyrics in-depth, and though Wrock Snob’s point may have been that they are not meta-wrock, it got me thinking that they in fact Were meta-wrock.

    3. I got the “is without a doubt the worst wizard rock album I have ever heard in my entire life” comment. I saw what Wrock Snob was doing as soon as I read it (see point #2)

    4. Yeah, please edit some – not as much for length, but if you come up with an idea, and change your mind in the same paragraph, you can just delete the whole thing, no?

    5. Bradley’s comment gets an A++ from me.

    6. This review inspired me to go work on my music despite being sick. I don’t want the community to become a bunch of critics, but it can only help if we are held to a standard where we put out the best music we can make.


  40. Whompy
    May 26, 2010 @ 10:20:00

    I’ve commented on this blog extensively enough that everyone should be aware of where I’m coming from, so I’ll just leave this as my final comment:

    Awesome review overall. Hope you read mine and I hope it clarifies things for you a bit. See you next time I’m in __________! 😉


  41. Jace
    May 26, 2010 @ 10:36:09

    As always, I seem to find myself staring at my keyboard, trying to find ways to say what i want to without coming off as a jerk or whatever. So I’ll just say it the best I can.

    I’m incredibly annoyed with some of these comments. Mainly the fact that someone perceived a piece of art one way, and others are trying to pound it in that they were wrong. That’s ridiculous. You wouldn’t go to an art museum, ask someone what they thought of a piece than shove it down their throat how they were wrong.

    If the Wrock Snob didn’t find this album to be “meta-wizard rock” or whatever, who the fuck cares? It’s how they heard it, it’s how they feel about it. Whether or not that’s what it’s supposed to be, who are we to say otherwise?



    • Whompy
      May 26, 2010 @ 10:55:53

      That’s a good point, Jace. I don’t disagree with you. At the same time, note the questions at the end of his review. He opened this up for debate.


      • Jace
        May 26, 2010 @ 11:16:27

        There is a HUGE difference between debating, and trying to force someone into admitting they’re “wrong” about their opinions.


      • Whompy
        May 26, 2010 @ 12:20:45

        I think the difference here is that when you walk into an art museum, you’re looking at art that’s generally the work of dead people. Sure, there’s probably lots of academic discussion on the pieces you’re viewing, but unless you’re really interested in art history, you probably haven’t looked through it. In the case of this review, the artist is not only alive and kicking, but also a fairly vocal member of the community.

        Like I’ve said, I’d have no problem with someone saying “I don’t like Demons at the Helm for this reason and this reason, etc.” You can’t please everyone. I think my main issue is with the flat-out categorizing that takes place in this review. It’s a fantastic review, one that I’ve tweeted to my followers and promoted, but there are also aspects that are clearly up for debate. And the author encouraged this debate, thanked people for giving him feedback, and participated as much as anyone.

        So my point is that I don’t really get why you’re so angry about this. Discussion is fun. And my comment about “painting him into a corner” was a joke. The later comments about how he was George Bushing it? I still stand by those comments, because he asked for something, I gave it to him, and then he said it wasn’t enough.


      • tina.
        May 26, 2010 @ 12:23:21

        Definitely good point! I know I was a bit harsh, at first, and now i do appreciate his opinions are his own. Isn’t debating all about-winning the majority of opinions? I felt it was open for debate.
        It’s also really hard to say things without definitions. Fine art is easier as it tends to be classified in periods and follows a time line more strictly than music~especially modern music.
        I think that Wrocksnob could very well set up some ground rules if he feels it’s either more like mudslinging or pointless debate.
        I guess it could be just put up for a vote…or something.


      • Jace
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:01:21

        Not angry, simply annoyed.


      • Whompy
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:05:31

        Fair enough. But he opened it up for debate, and as the person who created these songs and who knows every single layer of meaning behind them, I’m at a bit of an advantage when discussing the meanings of these songs. 🙂

        Which leads me to believe that maybe I shouldn’t have participated in this discussion at all and just responded with my blog post today.


      • Jace
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:14:33

        Oh i have no issue with you debating the personal meanings of your songs. It was good to read how they heard it versus your own personal experiences that lead you to writing them, and what they mean to you.

        I guess what annoyed me was the constant “you’re wrong and I will badger you until you admit otherwise” vibe i was getting towards the end. And maybe that’s just how i interpreted it, thus the biggest bitch of having debates via text on a screen. You can’t hear the tones, see the facial expressions, ect.


      • Whompy
        May 26, 2010 @ 13:19:20

        Oh, that was definitely my tone towards the end, but it was close to 3am and I was getting cranky. I got a little ahead of myself with the aggression — but then again, read WrockSnob’s reviews for more examples of that. 🙂 This guy strikes me as someone who can handle it pretty well, so I wasn’t worried that I was crossing a line. I was mostly just having fun with the best debate I’ve had in ages. Also, I’m pretty sure WrockSnob is still in high school, and that gives me increased faith in humanity.


      • Whompy
        May 26, 2010 @ 19:21:42

        Whoopsy. Well, you communicate like a grad student, so my judgment that you were in high school was more a reflection of the fact that wizard rock has completely skewed my perception of age. 🙂


  42. Whompy
    May 26, 2010 @ 19:10:49

    Hey peeps. After giving this a bit more thought (and talking to a couple friends), I’ve realized I was probably a little too involved in this discussion. I don’t regret it, but I understand if anyone takes issue with my approach in responding to this excellent review. As always, people are free to come to whatever conclusion they want about my motivations for debating so heavily, but the truth of the matter is that I was having a lot of fun debating and I couldn’t help myself. Fun is fun, and I enjoy it. But yeah, sorry if I got carried away for a while there.


    • PK9
      May 27, 2010 @ 15:47:18

      I take it that you know the IRL identity of wrocksnob, and you know him as a person. But I can see if someone didn’t read in between the lines they might find the discussion to be a little more hostile than it really was.


  43. PK9
    May 27, 2010 @ 15:53:37

    Regarding the level of detail.

    I have not listened to Demons at the Helm, so while I found the review to be very insightful and informative, it got really hard to follow all the line-by-line analysis, because I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. With O&U, I had listened to a few of the tracks so I could follow it better. I’m sure if you hit one of The Butterbeer Experience’s or RiddleTM’s albums I’d be able to follow it and probably even have point-by-point comments about your comments. And for the artist himself, I can see the detail is appreciated and understood.

    My thought is this, perhaps a solution is to break your review into two parts: 1) a more general album review that can help introduce the album to someone who has not heard it, which includes a conclusion and your fancy gold F, and 2) an addendum that has more detailed review song by song for anyone who is familiar with the album and would enjoy the in-depth analysis. Just an idea.


  44. Trackback: Previously, On The Wrock Snob « The Wrock Snob
  45. Bread
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 18:37:38

    I think Whompy is just being a bitch about things.


  46. Trackback: 2010 in Review – Not What You Think « The Wrock Snob
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