If you get your music news and gossip from mainstream sources, you'll pick someone other than Attila frontman Chris Fronzak for your 2014 Troll of the Year Award, and you will have made the wrong choice. Your heart may be in the right place. Or, more likely, you've never heard of this guy or the band of Atlanta metalcore doofuses under his command. But there's a fine and crucial distinction between a jerk whose intentions are at odds with the results and an honest-to-god unapologetic troll. And that's where Fronzilla towers above those you might consider his peers.
He has worthy competition, sure. Sad-bastard folkie Mark Kozelek, having touched off an absurdist feud with dad-rockers the War on Drugs when their set at a recent Ottawa music festival inadvertently drowned out his own, wrote and released a song called "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock," and also marketed a T-shirt commemorating the time he publicly denounced residents of Raleigh, N.C., as "fuckin' hillbillies," from the stage, right to their faces. But both these acts were designed to parody the inanity of stage banter and indie-rock-media coverage. Compare this to Attila's breakout single, "About That Life," and specifically Fronzak's climactic shout of "suck my fuck," which is now emblazoned on a Christmas sweater wherein one reindeer sodomizes another. This is actually one of Attila's more charming pieces of merch.
Meanwhile, Ariel Pink earned the title of "Most Hated Man in Indie Rock" before he called Grimes "stupid and retarded," but his main 2014 offense was a remark implying that Madonna's music has been pretty lousy for the past decade—an opinion shared by the vast majority of Madonna's fan base. Compare this to the fate of "Proving Grounds," the lead single from Attila's new album, Guilty Pleasure. Post-hardcore screamers Senses Fail attempted to take Fronzak to task for his brazen use of the word "faggot" in the chorus; the Fronz responded that the offending line ("Who's the faggot now?") was meant to echo Korn's "Faget," throwing a bully's derogatory term right back at him as means of empowerment … after, you know, you've proved yourself on the proving grounds, or whatever. He then dismissed Senses Fail as washed up and twice his age. Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen is 30 years old. Fronzak is 25.
Or perhaps you still ride for veteran outrage-generators Eminem and Azealia Banks, who this year threatened physical retribution against Lana Del Rey and Disclosure, respectively. (Azealia has since concentrated most of her ire on Iggy Azalea, but I'm staying out of that one.) And while those respective provocations are incredibly sad and horrifying, they're also the actions of people who know that sort of thing works for them. The point is that most of the people denounced as trolls are motivated by a desire to comment, to connect, to express themselves or at least keep their career going. They're motivated by something other than pure spite. Whereas a true troll is motivated only by his or her own boredom, and in the case of Attila, it takes one to know one. The first song on Guilty Pleasure is called "Sex, Pizza and Trolls." It comes out in favor of all three.
People fear what they don't understand—I heard that on a Nas song, so I assume it's probably true. In which case, Guilty Pleasure is absolutely terrifying in a visceral way, in the way backyard wrestling or paint huffing tends to be: the kind of staggeringly popular pastime that doesn't need mainstream attention to be mainstream popular, and actually thrives on that disrespect. The album debuted at No. 54 on the Billboard album chart in November with no mainstream exposure whatsoever and no hope of ever getting it, so it stands to reason that at least a few people are listening to this band. Thousands of people, even.
Likewise, if you get your music recommendations from mainstream sources, I'll bet that regardless of the J-pop, deep house, lo-fi folk, and other horizon-broadening stuff you've taken in during 2014, you've never heard anything like Attila. Genre is a helpful, but ultimately futile framework here, because the use of terms like "metalcore" or "crunkcore" are veritably meaningless on their own terms. And unless you teach a middle-school gym class, you will likely be unable to imagine coming across anyone in your daily existence who would legitimately enjoy them. You may have used the term guilty pleasure to describe things like Florida Georgia Line or "Rude" this year, but you feel guilty because your enjoyment of such entities reflects poorly on your own credibility, not because their popularity makes the world seem like a shittier place. Attila, however, are beyond contrarianism or ironic enjoyment.
What am I even doing? Look, here's the video for "About That Life." Let's all just watch this before going forward. I swear, it'll change your life.
Take a second to gather your thoughts. Did you laugh? Cry? Cry while laughing? Or did you merely shrug and file it somewhere between Icy Hot Stuntaz and brokENCYDE? I'd be dismissive, too, except there's a common reaction to Attila that takes them past the point of curiosity into something more insidious and possibly dangerous. Almost without fail, here's the critical response to Attila: "This sounds like #GamerGate." Translated: Its heart pumps Mountain Dew Game Fuel, and its mouth spews Dorito-scented contempt for anything that threatens the security of an oversexed, teenaged white male. Which is to say, everything except itself.
Yeah, this is not the first time you've heard white dudes spit some incredibly dumb, hurtful, "problematic" shit over rap-metal guitars. But these guys have little in common with Limp Bizkit or Korn. In fact, spending time with Attila will only make you nostalgic for those guys. There are perfectly reasonable people who enjoyed Limp Bizkit, or at least appreciated Wes Borland's guitar textures and/or were curious what DJ Lethal was up to post-House of Pain. I mean, "Rollin'" kinda still bangs, and Fred Durst at least cut tracks with DJ Premier and Method Man and Xzibit.
On the other hand, Attila songs only have the vaguest sense of pop structure. There's plenty of musicianship, but only of the kind that mirrors the competitive accumulation of hit points and Twitter favorites—the guitar solos are extremely fast scale runs, suggesting a teenhood spent playing along to Dream Theater tabs but wondering why more of their songs couldn't be about tits. On "Sex, Pizza and Trolls," Fronzak introduces the breakdown thus: "Here's a fucking solo for all you dumb, elitist cunts; this shit is badass as fuck, and you'll probably try to play it and fail." Pretty rough, but it sure beats "OK, Edge, play the blues!" There are also double-kick drums, but they could just as easily be drum machines.
"Lyrically, I've really expanded my horizons," Fronzak claimed in a recent interview. "I also drop some serious knowledge on this album." CTRL+F the available online lyrics pages for Guilty Pleasure, and you'll determine that he uses the word fuck 92 times, bitch 33 times, and you a staggering 220 times. For a supposedly pleasure-seeking, celebratory, insular affair, this record is almost entirely obsessed with you—more specifically, how you are always in the wrong. But once again, this differs from the misanthropy of Korn and Slipknot and such, which often seemed to derive its antagonism from legitimate pain and trauma. This stuff also lacks the intentional absurdity and legitimate "about that life" commitment Insane Clown Posse demands from its fans.
No, Attila seem to be fueled by a particularly modern entitlement: You can say or do anything, as long as saying or doing it to your haters. Which is to say that whatever your transgression—say, for example, suggesting that one's enemies "put your lips on my dick so you can taste success," which is the most about-that-life line from "About That Life"—is inherently just and righteous, because this is 2014, and the internet gives us permission. A hater doesn't actually have to hate you to be dismissed as such—a hater can be anyone who tries to get you to stop being an asshole. And this apparently happens to Fronzak a lot.
Only five years ago, it seemed as if Fronzak's claim to fame as a piece of low-culture detritus would be the result of his appearance on MTV's Made. Its tagline is too perfect in light of Attila's troglodytic views of gender relations: The "graceless metal frontman" assents to a male-model makeover because "he's sick of being ignored by the ladies." As with the Game's notorious cameo in the dating show Change of Heart, it's often used to call the artist's "credibility" as a self-styled badass into question. But both of these gotcha moments end up confirming the desperate, very teenaged need for outside validation that has driven each's music from the beginning to a far greater degree. And once they got even a shred of validation, they proved willing to do anything to keep it coming. This helps to explain how Attila evolved from a fairly standard, hedonistic metalcore act to one whose artistic watershed was a decision to make a "Harlem Shake" video. After that, "About that Life" appears to be a pretty logical follow-up.
While the relative success of Guilty Pleasure will likely be taken by Fronzak as a mandate to supply more of the same, Attila will never garner the attention, let alone the respect, of their Family Values predecessors. No one will. These guys are easy targets for the Internet Outrage Machine, but they're not big enough targets, at least not yet, and hopefully not ever.
No, Attila aren't important, but they do matter. If you're reading this, I'm assuming you spend a good deal of time online and are thus fully aware of how difficult it is to shield yourself from trolls. Mute 'em, block 'em, do whatever—this stuff finds its way into your life regardless, because that's a troll's only goal. And so even as we're told that conceptual album-length gambits like Arcade Fire's Reflektor, EMA's The Future's Void, or Parquet Courts' Content Nausea are all timely works trying to make sense of how this new virtual reality affects our identities and our interactions, they don't quite go deep enough. Listening to Attila, you're merely reminded that the internet is a sewer that allows horrible things to thrive, which is the only point about modern life worth making. By that measure, Guilty Pleasure is the most relevant album about the internet ever made.
Ian Cohen is a Contributing Editor at Pitchfork and a Los Angeles-based writer for himself and others. He is on Twitter @en_cohen.
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