There are lots of reasons, but most fundamental is that this music means something to us and we want to see that it’s preserved in some fashion for the long term, beyond our lifetime.
Why death metal?
The artistic / cultural reason: Music written when a style is in its most embryonic form deserves to be saved. New genres of music don’t just pop up and spread to every corner of the globe on the backs of boutique labels and fan enthusiasm everyday, so finding ourselves in the position to capture such a detailed snapshot of one is a historical lucky break.
The real reason: Because it’s rad and we love it.
Why only death metal?
Because sometimes limits are a good thing. Someone else can (and should) preserve black metal, grind, doom, etc.
How strictly “death metal” are we talking?
Not very. Lots of interesting stuff was the stuff made at the fringes of the genre, so you’ll find death/thrash, death/doom, blackened death, death grind, etc.
The artistic / cultural reason: Because music written by artists in their most embryonic form is worth saving, even if the artist never made it past the demo stage.
The technical reason: Much of the demo material of that era was distributed as cheaply as possible, primarily through the use of hand-dubbed electromagnetic cassette tapes and homemade jackets produced on black & white copiers. The releases were small in quantity and fragile in nature. Many, if not most have been lost over the subsequent 35 years and those that remain are always subject to being damaged, destroyed or simply thrown away. And for those that survive, we have this to worry about:
“With proper care, an analog tape can last up to 30 years.”
1990 was 27 years ago. How much longer are those cheap consumer cassettes going to last before the tape gives out? Getting the music off the tapes and preserving the digital version is the key to saving the music.
Currently, SV Archive isn’t in the business of digitizing tapes (more on that below), but once the tapes have been digitized, maintaining those files becomes a new challenge (more on that below as well). Providing a long term solution – as in, beyond our lifetimes – for the preservation of those files is our main concern at this time.
Why only demos?
Albums, EPs, singles, etc. were all mass-produced on better quality media (often on CD) and are in much less danger of being lost forever. Ultimately, we’d love to remove the demos-only and expand the archive:
- Digital archive of other “analog” ephemera:
- 7” singles
- Anthologies, etc.
- Original cover art
- Jackets, booklets & back covers
- Promo photos
- Live Photos
- Studio photos
- Personal photos
- Rehearsal tapes
- Live tapes / bootlegs
- Show fliers / tour posters
- Set lists
- Tablature / sheet music
- Officially-released material
- Physical archive for any of the above
- “Scholarly” papers related to death metal
- Audio and written interviews with various people involved in the scene at the time
- Material beyond 1999, up to the present
But for now, the demos alone are already a monumental task. Baby steps.
But I’ve never heard of 99% of these bands. What’s the point?
In recent years, the demo recordings of most major death metal bands have been rescued, cleaned up, remastered and reissued in larger runs on more durable formats (CD, vinyl & digital). This is a very good thing and ensures their existence for at least another decade or more. And we’re collecting that stuff, as well.
But that’s a small sliver of the pie. The vast majority of demos made 17-30 years ago don’t exactly have the “sales potential” needed to get a label interested.
It is our view that these works – small though they are — add up to something of importance. Young kids all over the world tuned into something, started bands, put in the hours of writing and rehearsal, fired up the 4-tracks and made it happen. Their efforts are worth preserving.
The artistic reason: Death metal was born in the late ’80s, matured between 1990-1993 and slowly collapsed as the decade wore on. Some would say it was dead by 1993, but 2000 is a nice round number. That’s not to say nothing good came out post-2000, or that death metal hasn’t had a remarkable resurgence in recent years.
The technical reason: Well before 2000, CDs had overtaken tapes as the medium of choice for distributing music. As the internet kicked into high gear, bands began using it to distribute their music instead of physical media. Those two facts combined means that most post-2000 demos are already in the digital realm and in much less danger of being lost forever.
Ultimately, we’d love to remove the pre-2000 restriction, but for now limits are good.
Why preserve digitally? Shouldn’t you have a warehouse full of tapes to do this correctly?
It’d be great to get original copies, but as much as we’d like to create a permanent physical archive, those items fetch collector prices. And remember that we’re preserving this stuff in the first place specifically because it’s on a fragile analog format. Fortunately, the music is the most important part and for preserving that, digital is better. Zero physical footprint, storage is cheap, you can back it up, etc. So for now, we leave the physical artifacts to the collectors and focus on preserving the music.
Aren’t the demo-trading blogs already doing this?
Yes, and they’re amazing. In fact, most digital copies of these recordings exist solely because independent fans have taken it upon themselves to spend their time & money buying old demos, digitizing them and dispersing them on the internet. They’ve single-handedly preserved enormous amounts of this material and their efforts should not be understated.
Unfortunately, due the cost of server bandwidth and the murky legality of trading copyrighted material, these collectors don’t host permanent copies of anything. They utilize file sharing sites to host the files and publicize their existence on blogs.
This works well enough, but the material ends up in the hands of 3rd parties who routinely expire and delete the files for any number of reasons, not to mention go out of business, not to mention employ a lot of shady means to make money. So the music is there, but it’s not permanent. And that means that when the last collector holding a digital copy of a certain demo stops re-posting it and the last file sharing company deletes the files, the only copies of that music will again be the original analog tapes. And when the last copy of that demos gets destroyed, thrown out, forgotten or simply deteriorates, that music is gone forever. That’s why the SV Archive exists.
What makes this an archive instead of just a collection?
A few things.
- Collections are defined by the collector’s taste. The SV Archive is defined by 3 criteria:
- It needs to be some flavor of death metal
- It needs to be a demo
- The original recording needs to have been made prior to the year 2000
- Collections change with the collector’s tastes over time. The SV Archive won’t.* Any recording we find that meets the criteria is in and stays in.
- Collectors have no obligation to anyone to maintain their collection in any state. We feel the SV Archive does. If we tire of managing it, we will find it a new home with new caretakers who will maintain it under the same rules.
* Okay, it may change, but only to expand and include more stuff, not to preclude.
How are you archiving the files?
When new items are added, the file metadata (artist, album, name, track #, etc.) is cleaned and the highest quality art we can find it attached. Once in the archive, the items are noted here on the site and files are backed up locally and remotely for safekeeping. It’s not rocket science. Got suggestions? Email jasoncmuxlow[at]gmail[dot]com.
Where are the download links?
The SV Archive is not a file-sharing resource. That may change in the future, but for now we’re strictly interested in the preservation of the music. These pages are here only to document what we’ve archived and encourage folks to help us with what’s missing.
If you’re looking for downloads, there are lot of great blogs out there doing that already, such as the amazing Sempiternal Esoterica.
Where’s the metadata?
SV Archive is not a metadata warehouse. This is a noble and extremely important undertaking, but also extremely difficult. Fortunately, the amazing folks at Metal Archives & Demo Archives have that covered in spades.
What’s a demo?
Typically recorded before the bands had album deals, “demos” (short for “demostration tapes”) were usually a band’s first output. With a demo in hand, a band could get their name out via tape trading, look for gigs, look for a label, solicit reviews & interviews, etc. Demos tend so sound pretty terrible because most bands at the beginning of their career have no money, which means no recording studio, which means recording on a 4-track, recording in your garage, recording a rehearsal on a boom box…whatever it took to get the job done.
Typically, demos had little impact individually (though there are exceptions) and many are derivative, generally awful and at times unlistenable, but collectively they form an enormous, global output of raw material created by artists with little to no interest in commercial success.
Combined with the tape-trading circuit of the day, demos formed a feedback loop which drove the development of various strands of heavy metal at a very fast rate.