The rating scale used in Iron Skullet reviews runs from 0 to 100. I do not award points for the time and energy needed to make an album. Although I acknowledge that making music is often a difficult and time-consuming process, all artists must invest their energy into the creative process, so I only assess the value of the finished product. A score of 0 indicates an album with no redeeming qualities, while 100 indicates one with no flaws.
- 100 Unicorn
A mythical beast. Like all art and other human endeavors, music is inherently flawed, and it is therefore theoretically impossible for a recording to be perfect. Virtually no album is capable of scoring a perfect 100, though there’s always hope.
- 90-99 Phenomenal
A phenomenal album. Any recording that scores in this range is a remarkable piece of music that deserves a listen from all fans of the genre. The few albums that score in the mid to high 90s are as close to perfect as human creations can be.
- 80-89 Excellent
An excellent album. A recording in this range is one that is highly competent with many exciting and rewarding moments. A handful of mediocre songs or other setbacks may slightly diminish an otherwise terrific recording.
- 70-79 Good
A good album. Recordings in this range are likable efforts with a handful of very enjoyable songs. They may be marred by poor sound production, too many filler tracks, or too little diversity in their song structures, though they are often worth hearing at least once.
- 60-69 Mediocre
A mediocre album. A recording in this range is not necessarily bad, but it lacks the elements needed to separate it from the bulk of music being made in the genre. It often suffers from murky sound production, dull songwriting, or awkward song compositions, though it still holds some redeeming qualities. In the case of new artists, this score may still reflect high potential for the artist’s future.
- 50-59 Forgettable
An unremarkable album. Recordings in this range are rarely worth the time and energy needed to seek them out and hear them, even if they have one or two interesting songs. Bargain bin material.
- 30-49 Bad
A bad album. Any recording that lands in this range should be avoided, even if there are a few hints of quality songwriting. The negative aspects of the recording outweigh any and all redeeming qualities. Life is too short to bother with boring music. Skip these.
- 0-29 Terrible
A terrible album. Any recording that scores under 30 is a disastrous effort that has no highlights or redeeming qualities.
Reviewing music is an inherently subjective process, so it’s necessary to have a grading system in order to remain as consistent and accurate as possible. I have chosen the six criteria that are most important to me when I listen to an album in order to measure a recording’s value. There is a seventh criterion that only occasionally comes into play, which I will explain at the end. After I write a review, I rate the album by scoring each of these six factors on a scale of 1 to 10 and finding the total percentage out of 60.
The first factor I consider on any album I review is the songwriting. Simply put, are the songs compelling? Songwriting takes into account things like attractive melodies, surprising instrumental sections, explosive guitar solos, danceable rhythms, or anything else that compels me to “like” a song. The biggest downfall for most recordings, especially synthwave albums, is monotony. If songs rely on the same rhythm and melody for most of their duration, the songwriting score will plummet. In many cases, the difference between a great song and a subpar song for me is about two minutes. I’ve heard countless songs spoiled by an unnecessary five or six-minute running length.
- Technical Execution
Music is only as good as its delivery. Technical execution usually takes into account the tightness and precision of the musicians’ performance on the recording. However, assessing technical skill can be tricky on metal albums, as a band can have a loose playing style that feels energetic and works well for their music. Therefore, the most important question for me when I’m rating technical skill is, “does the performance help or hurt the songwriting?”
- Sound Production
The best songwriting and technical delivery in the world can be negated by lousy sound production and mixing. This factor assesses the various elements in a song and how pleasing they are to hear. Do the bass notes sound distant? Are the guitar riffs drowned out by the vocals? Does the audio become thin and abrasive at high volumes? Factors like these are perhaps the most subjective part of rating an album, and people can argue for days about whether a recording sounds “right.” I do my best to indicate my thoughts on sound production in each review, especially if the album loses points for it.
- Song Variety
There are plenty of bands that have built a career on writing the same song over and over. I would prefer to hear artists branch out and push themselves to make memorable and unique tracks on an album. However, I don’t think it’s necessary for musicians to reinvent themselves. Experimentation and diversity can hurt a recording just as easily as they can aid it. Typically, I look for songs that are distinct from one another but form a cohesive whole.
- Overall Quality
The most important thing to me when judging overall quality is how many songs from the recording make it into in my Spotify playlists. Basically, this reflects whether or not I want to hear the song multiple times. If I cut out three songs from a nine-song recording, then this score is almost automatically going to be a six or a seven. However, if the remaining songs are exceptional, I may still rate the overall quality an eight. If the remaining songs are good, but not great, it may drop as low as a five.
I am a firm believer that memorable art is good art. If I can remember the details of a movie from 20 years ago, I am usually impressed by how good it is when I rewatch it. Similarly, if I hear an album 10 times and can’t recall a single song from it a year later, it is the mark of a mediocre album. The memorability factor assesses how well the songs stick with me once I walk away from the recording. If I find myself humming a melody or if I have a strong desire to hear a particular song, then this rating will be high.
- Album length
As mentioned above, there is sometimes a seventh criterion, which is album length. This only becomes relevant if the running time negatively impacts the listening experience. Additionally, I do not have an upper or lower limit for album length. For example, a recording does not automatically lose points for going under 40 minutes or over 60 minutes. Some albums, such as those from progressive metal bands, have longer song structures and need more space to effectively tell their story. A punk or crossover thrash album, on the other hand, can often get its point across in 30 minutes. Albums can lose points for being too short or too long, but it depends entirely on the recording. This is the only score I do not rate out of 10. Instead, I deduct up to two points from the album’s total score before finding the overall percentage.
I gave Nightstop’s album Dancing Killer a 93 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 10
Sound Production: 9
Song Variety: 10
Overall Quality: 9
Album Length: N/A
Total Score: 56 / 60
Final Rating: 93%
I gave Satan’s Hallow‘s self-titled album a 75 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 8
Sound Production: 9
Song Variety: 7
Overall Quality: 8
Album Length: -1
Total Score: 45 / 60
I gave Kalax‘s self-titled album a 38 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 8
Sound Production: 9
Song Variety: 1
Overall Quality: 2
Album Length: N/A
Total Score: 23 / 60