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In Defense of Metal

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To preface this, I would like to clarify a few things. “Metal” is an enormous aggregation of music, indeed. There are some subgenres that I don’t particularly care for, but as a whole I have to say that I love the genre.

I resent any music that is overly edited in the studio. Triggered double-bass is one thing, but perfectly clean, spot-on playing in every dimension of the music when the band could not possibly accomplish it live is entirely another.

I’m quite a purist when it comes to the technique of a performer. If the performer does not have the technique to perform the music that is on the recording, it should not be released. The performer should either simplify the passages that he or she cannot play or they should not be included at all. My attitude is very classical in that sense. True virtuosity on an instrument is difficult to find, and if machines start taking complete control over what is happening I believe that will signal the downfall of music. I would support full acoustic recordings of the band with high-quality microphones just as in a recording of classical music – there are high quality live recordings, I’m sure they could do this.

I try to focus on the musical aspects of the pieces presented. The images and cover art are secondary, though it looks like the obsession with images of tasteless, gory eviscerations are fading.

Certain things become readily apparent when sincerely listening to this music. The good bands show tremendous technical ability on their instruments, interesting musical concepts, and an intricacy that I think is only rivaled by jazz and classical music. From the creative and complicated figures of the drums to the constantly shifting melodic and harmonic ideas, these people make excellent music. I’d like to mention a few bands that come to mind:

Behemoth; Strapping Young Lad; Akercocke; Dimmu Borgir; The Dillinger Escape Plan; Martyr; Nile; Opeth; and Old Man's Child

All of these bands exhibit characteristics in varying degrees of one of the most important concepts of musical composition: contrast. The dissonant, diminished qualities of the metal riffs are many times contrasted with instrumental interludes or striking, classically-inspired passages.

There tend to be a series of different riffs that are presented and developed in interesting ways throughout each piece. This music is not typically set in a verse\chorus\verse\chorus framework. The pieces flow and remain organic.

Strapping Young Lad is one of my favorite bands. This group displays a fantastic ability for musical contrast with the inclusion of alien instruments and sound-effects, shifting and varied tonalities and modalities, bright and dark sections played together, all while retaining a great sense of balance and form.

Admittedly, there are bands that claim to be “metal” but are simply groups of mediocre musicians. This can be true in any genre.

There also have been a number of people who have allegedly taken the message of nihilism and anti-religion to a violent extreme – this has put a stain on the genre, but it seems the music is progressing nicely into a more mature form of expression with highly diverse influences. Bands in the metal genre are including more and more musical resources to expand the genre further and strain the original ideologies and motivations that first spawned the movement.

I have had some ideas with this music that I think could be effective. For instance, the inclusion of classical forms such as fugues, toccatas, sonatas, theme and variations, and others that are transferred into the dissonant framework of metal could be highly rewarding musically.

It seems to me that many of these bands are neglected simply because their members' music is inaccessible to the average listener steeped in easy-listening, smooth jazz, and pop. This is a genre that uses intense dissonance and extremes in contrast to evoke a mood of alienation, anxiety, anger, depression, and hate, all of which are very real and very common elements o our modern society. This music strikes me as terribly sincere.

Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Penderecki, Ligeti, Scriabin, Xenakis, Sorabji, and many others have dealt extensively with dissonance and completely unstable tonalities in a classical paradigm. I see metal as a post-modern extension of the anguish and terror expressed in atonal and non-tonal classical music. Free jazz has also used dissonant textures for emotional expression.

Below are links to metal, jazz, and classical works on Amazon that may be of interest.

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About Colin White

  • Armenian Pride

    Excellent Article

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Spot on! Great Article…

    I have yet to write an article about my passion for this music but I have presented it in many a comment thread. I too feel that this genre has no boundaries & isn’t for the shallow minded.
    I have seen the progression first hand and have been highly influenced by those pioneers:

    Yngwie Malmsteen,King Diamond,Death,Dream Theater,Cynic,Atheist,Watchtower & Spiral Architect among many. [The list could go on]

    The bands that can reproduce in a live setting what they have accomplished in recording.
    A true appreciation for talent,creativity,virtuosity & passion have been lost in the mainstream sea of cheap thrills & catchy tunes. Even more so in the American Metal scene which has fallen when compared to the Euro & Canadian scenes.

    I’m a firm believer that an appreciation & understanding of Classical & Jazz are the reasons why Metal has stood the test of time and with the inclusion of technology will only further push the envelope & open up the possibilites of what is to come.

  • Paul Roy

    Great piece. Everything you have said about Metal also describes the very reasons I enjoy Progressive Rock (and Metal) so much. You really hit the nail on the head in your paragraph about contrast. I get so bored with the same verse/chorus/verse, one time signature, every song sounds the same, mainstream shit out there.

  • JC Mosquito

    You have written about this genre of music with subtleness and style, two qualities usually thought of as lacking in a sterotypical metal fan. The problem is that metal is often seen as a caricature of music: if a fast guitarist is good, the fastest guitarist is best. If a loud band is good… you get the picture. By extension, people have come to also to believe things that don’t necessarily have much to do with musicianship or composition. Some series if if/thens: the longest hair; the most over the top vocal; and, the most swearing or off color topics and language.

    But, as you said, “Certain things become readily apparent when sincerely listening to this music. The good bands show tremendous technical ability on their instruments, interesting musical concepts, and an intricacy that I think is only rivaled by jazz and classical music.” From this writing, I think you would be the kind of person who actually is able to look past the cartoon that some metal has become; and, hopefully your article will encourage other fans of the genre to re-examine the basis of their own appreciation of a somewhat maligned genre.

  • Great article!

  • The Haze

    Crave the Air

  • Lord of Light

    Hey [personal attack deleted], why don’t you listen to some True Metal? Although, Nile and Behemoth are great.