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GoatLord

A brief examination of the heavy metal aesthetic

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I won't waste your time talking about how awesome metal is, or what the difference between X and Y genre is (hint: nobody cares). Rather, I'm interested in exploring the bizarre appeal of the music in its most extreme forms.

"Hard rock" describes, in a nutshell, the tendency to utilize brash, distorted electric guitars as primary instrument in rock music, which is in stark contrast to the milky-smooth tones of prototypical rock-and-roll. Heavy metal was the logical conclusion of hard rock, concentrating the distortion and aggression into an even bigger, badder beast. Each new sub-genre that emerged--which in rough chronological order were speed metal, power metal, black metal, thrash metal, death metal, grindcore and doom metal--represented some sort of extreme stripping down of key elements while subtly adding new ones.

That's why, by the time you get to the likes of Darkthrone, Enslaved, Suffocation, Napalm Death, Carcass, My Dying Bride, Sunn 0))) and others, it becomes a bestial, caveman affair. It retains a rhythmic foundation (with the exception of Sunn 0))), who is so-called drone metal) and may even conform to the verse/chorus tendencies of pop music. And yet, it's so removed from what is typically viewed as rock and pop that it almost becomes otherworldly. I think this is where the appeal lies. In its most bombastic, aggressive variants, metal becomes the expression of the caveman, beating his enemy to death with crude weapons and coming to purely abstract conclusions about the mysteries of nature.

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That's a pretty good analysis. A lot of the more extreme sub-genres follow a more unpredictable song structure. Sort of like Jazz; lots of metal musicians I know have expressed their love of Jazz. Also, many of them are big fans of classical music as well. Most metal musicians have a genuine appreciation for innovative and dynamic song structures, all they way down to the notes. above all, they are mostly all about musicianship. Though, I would say that the raw primitive Black Metalers have more of a punk rock ethic, with their appreciation for minimalism, and "necro" sound quality. However, the song structure, as well as song length is what a big part of what makes raw black metal akin to the other extreme genres of metal musically. Not to mention other attributes, such as dark, and heavy sounding guitar and bass rifts.

Also, check out this article about the history of Heavy Metal:

http://www.anus.com/metal/about/history.html

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First, your chronology is wrong. It's closer to this: heavy metal, power metal, speed/thrash metal, death metal, black metal, doom/sludge metal, power-violence/grindcore, oh and don't forget no one's favorite, nu-metal.

Most metal music shares some of these qualities: Negative/evil attitudes/emotions; like hate, fear/panic, anger/rage, disgust, killing/dying/death, and domination. Heavily masculine themes dominated by men. Music centered on distorted guitars.

Each one of these variants brings something new to the metal spectrum though.

Heavy Metal: Metal is born. Heavier than, yet similar to Rock n' Roll. Think of the early acts from the 70s. Singing and yelling is the norm. Lyrics are mostly negative/evil.

Speed/thrash metal: Drummers make use of the 'punk beat' or 'd-beat' while guitarists speed pick. Insane guitar soloing. Vocals are mostly yelling. Lyrics about demons and the devil are becoming common now.

Death Metal: Blast beats and double kick define much of Death Metals drumming. Tuning down becomes more common. Extremely technical music. Vocalists now scream and growl. Much of the lyrics focus on gore and death.

Black Metal: Minimalist response to technical Deathmetal. Black Metal's music focus was to provide a negative/evil and long-winded atmosphere. Soloing usually not present. DIY/punk rock ascetic. Vocalists scream and wail. Lyric themes for the first time are exclusively Satanic.

Doom/Sludge Metal: Sludge sounds like it's other metal/hardcore music, just slowed down, giving it the aesthetic of being played in slow motion. Doom is even slower than Sludge, using the slowest drum beats heard in all of music. Doom is minimalist and long-winded. Doom tuning is the lowest to date. Themes tend to dwell on depression, fear, drug use, failure, and suicide.

Power-violence/grind-core: Opposite of sludge/doom these styles have taken music in a faster, more chaotic direction. Absurd speed and dissonance are their qualities. These genres are actually more like 'punk goes death-metal'. Because their roots are in punk lyrics tend to be focused on the worst type of shit humanity has to offer from slaves, to war, to genocide.

Hope this helps people understand metal music better.

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The first blast beat ever recorded was from a 60s Jazz band.

The term was coined by Napalm Death, however.

The earliest Death Metal Bands had used more thrashy, punk beats initially; Thrash was Death Metal's precursor. Though the use of blast beats became more prevalent over time.

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Personally I can't stand metal after being hooked on it for around a decade. It just got boring and samey.

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j4rio said:

Personally I can't stand metal after being hooked on it for around a decade. It just got boring and samey.


I enjoy a lot of different kinds of music. I love punk, metal, rap, country, etc. I don't get why some people religiously listen to only one type of genre.

But at any rate, I still also listen to the same metal bands I loved back when I was 14. Maybe the sheer amount of different musically styles (even within metal itself) have preserved my interests from being dulled over time. Or maybe they are just that good. Whatever the reason is, I will listen to metal, probably until I die.

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Musically, what I like about it is the contrasts between the muted and open notes on the guitar that really drives the rhythm of the music. I think it was Randy Rhoads that pioneered the archetypical style of metal guitar playing. This is also why I'm not that interested in the more extreme types lik speed or death metal since it mostly seems to revolve around Dick Dale style tremolos (while not even being half as fun to listen to as surf rock).

Thematically metal has always been very theatrical in nature. It owes a lot to Ronny James Dio's obession with fantasy in the 70's. And the typical style of leather outfits basically stems from Rob Halford needing an outlet for his sexual orientation long before he came out of the closet.

The theatrical stuff isn't all fantasy or occult imagery though. I particularly like the new Djent movement which is more centered around quantum physics and astronomy. Fun stuff.

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Egregor said:

First, your chronology is wrong. It's closer to this: heavy metal, power metal, speed/thrash metal, death metal, black metal, doom/sludge metal, power-violence/grindcore, oh and don't forget no one's favorite, nu-metal.


The reason I choose the genres in the order I did was because of the following:

speed metal >> Coined in the late 70s by music critics
power metal >> Was in use as early as 1981 by Metallica and Venom
black metal >> Named after Venom's 1982 album of the same name
thrash metal >> Slayer and Metallica's debuts were both in 1983
death metal >> Possessed wrote the song "death metal" in 1984
grindcore >> Napalm Death coined the term and debuted in 1987
doom metal >> Candlemass's "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" debuted in 1986, so that should have been listed before grindcore.

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GoatLord said:

doom metal >> Candlemass's "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" debuted in 1986, so that should have been listed before grindcore.

I think you mean 1970.

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j4rio said:

Personally I can't stand metal after being hooked on it for around a decade. It just got boring and samey.

Same here. I'll gladly listen to some of the stuff I used to listen to in high school and even go see them live, but for day to day listening, well, I didn't end up at Defqon1 by accident (BTW anyone going to Syndicate 2014 in Dortmund?).

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Kontra Kommando said:

I enjoy a lot of different kinds of music. I love punk, metal, rap, country, etc. I don't get why some people religiously listen to only one type of genre.

But at any rate, I still also listen to the same metal bands I loved back when I was 14. Maybe the sheer amount of different musically styles (even within metal itself) have preserved my interests from being dulled over time. Or maybe they are just that good. Whatever the reason is, I will listen to metal, probably until I die.


I second this.
The main genre has been metal since childhood, but also listening to anything and everything else i like in many, to any genres, makes metal sound like a supernatural gift when im tired of the other stuff.

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j4rio said:
Personally I can't stand metal after being hooked on it for around a decade. It just got boring and samey.

I kind of relate but I can periodically listen to a handful of the bands that I feel do justice to what metal can do best, since I can alternate with other non-metal music and give metal bands their place at the right time.

But in the end, all genres are samey, and personally, change for its own sake never attracted me too much, so I think that my not being a genuine metalhead anymore has to do with something else, as well.

In some sense, metal is like the music of frustration, hence its genres explore aggressive, self-destructive or resentful themes, or ones that seek great glory to counterbalance a besieged feeling of existence. It's a form o expression that tends to have a huge superego, in a Freudian sense. I think that's something worth having a musical venue of expression, although continuous exposure to it makes me numb.

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Personally I like heavy metal and subkinds because they're usually more elaborate than average music, and I also like the distorted guitar sound. However it does turn out that the ones I like the most are just based on popular (e.g. folklore) or classic (e.g. Mozart) songs, so they're not good on their own merits. The real original gems are few and if I listen to them repeatedly I get bored of them, making me stop listening to heavy metal altogether :(

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GoatLord said:

The reason I choose the genres in the order I did was because of the following:

speed metal >> Coined in the late 70s by music critics
power metal >> Was in use as early as 1981 by Metallica and Venom
black metal >> Named after Venom's 1982 album of the same name
thrash metal >> Slayer and Metallica's debuts were both in 1983
death metal >> Possessed wrote the song "death metal" in 1984
grindcore >> Napalm Death coined the term and debuted in 1987
doom metal >> Candlemass's "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" debuted in 1986, so that should have been listed before grindcore.


touché!

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The thing about genres is that they are built retrospectively. Without bands like those of the NWOBHM, perhaps Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin would now be know only as hard rock bands, and wouldn't be grouped among bands that are the "fathers of metal". By definition, a "father" of a genre is kind of outside it because the parent isn't born as part of what it spawns, engendering or giving birth to it, yet obviously the offspring of a parent share many of its qualities.

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Kontra Kommando said:

Whatever the reason is, I will listen to metal, probably until I die.


Hehe, yeah, I thought so too. I've pretty much randomly stumbled upon some EBM stuff on youtube and never looked back since. Funnily enough, comment section on that particular piece was flooded by diehard metal fans with similar views.

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j4rio said:

Hehe, yeah, I thought so too. I've pretty much randomly stumbled upon some EBM stuff on youtube and never looked back since. Funnily enough, comment section on that particular piece was flooded by diehard metal fans with similar views.


My three friends who love technical slam Death metal and Grindcore, also became a big dub step fans. I can sort of see the link in appreciation. Its a lot of chaotic heavy noise.

I think a lot of what drives the appreciation of technical musicianship in metal is that many, if not most of the fans are musicians themselves. There are not many metal heads, that are just fans. At least the ones that are proactively within their respective scenes, that go to shows; people that compose usual crowds.

Jaxxoon R said:

New Post Hell theme, please.


It is a pretty disturbing song; would be fitting for biblical hell too.

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My taste in metal from 2007 to mid 2013 was basically a progression from Pantera/SOAD to stuff like Morbid Angel, or on the slower half of the spectrum, Electric Wizard and Monarch. TheDevilzWork (our old band) split late last year though, and that was a major blow to my metal obsession. Early this year though, I threw on some System just for shits n gigs, which led to putting on Slayer, and all of a sudden I'm listening to my old "youth" favorites again. I assume this rotation will continue for many years, with some bands falling off, and new bands filling their places, and all metal genres explored more over time.

'Course, I'm only half metalhead, the other half is classic rock! I'm a die-hard Beatles fan, and a major lover of Hendrix/Zeppelin/Cream too, as well as many others. Uriah Heep is another less publicized group that comes to mind.

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Nu-Metal is okay, sometimes.

Besides that, I tend to dislike anything, metal or not, that devolves into a scream fest with guttural voices that sounds like someone who smoked 1000 more packs of cigs than he should have, complete with instrumentals that are simply noise. Your cave man beats, I guess. Like, along with a metal, a good chunk of some punk (Actually, emo, rather), recent and older, that falls into some of this. Heard some songs from something called "We Came As Romans." I think it's emo, not metal, but good fuck it's awful screaming and drums.

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Please tell me you at least like Lamb of God or Arch Enemy.

We Came as Romans is pretty much manufactured like pop music imo.

Speaking of We Came as Romans, does anybody know when everyone decided the drummer needed to start playing a bunch of random 16th note rhythms on the double bass while keeping quarter notes on a single cymbal? And then have the entire band play that same rhythm in unison on the lowest note on their instrument?

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Traditional Doom Metal always has, and always will be my favorite genre of music. Black Sabbath being possibly my favorite band of all time. If you guys are interested in Black Sabbath or Traditional Doom, check out this list I wrote on RateYourMusic:

http://rateyourmusic.com/list/DoomVitus/best_doom_metal_albums_for_black_sabbath_fans/

Feel free to add me as a friend on there if you're a member.

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flubbernugget said:

We Came as Romans is pretty much manufactured like pop music imo.


That does make plenty of sense, really. But even some of the worst pop music is less garbage than WCaR.

I've heard of Lamb of God, but I can't remember if I've ever heard any of their stuff. Not familiar with Arch Enemy at all, sorry. I still have the time before I'm dead to check them out, though. Probably Lamb since I'm probably more familiar with it whether I know so or not. It's probably on my Pandora metal/punk/Jimmy Buffet channel.

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The point is that they use the same techniques as most screamers, but they're more into "singing" with those techniques. There's a sense of pitch, timbre, and emotional expression not seen in most screaming. It's not just a scream and a growl (and a glissando between the two if you're lucky). And you can actually understand it. Meh. I'm having trouble explaining it tbh.

That being said, it applies more to both bands' later work. Except for Arch Enemy's new album. Yikes.

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So they are/were kinda experimental? In terms of how to use "screams"? Hm, would there be a certain album you'd suggest? Or maybe more song by song? I understand what you're trying to say, actually.

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Lamb of God's songs "Hourglass", "Now You've Got Something to Die For" and "Redneck" are some of my favorites. I was big into LOG a while back, still love putting them on from time to time. Hopefully it's not too screamy - I too hate high-pitch "squaling" screams.

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My taste in different genres of music is very analytical and contextual, and very other genres offer as much mechanistic examination as metal. I find myself very attracted to bands that are innovators or early adapters, which is probably why the last 10 years of metal have mostly been uninteresting to me, as each new generation is influenced by the previous, resulting in so much derivation that the whole spectrum of metal becomes boring.

The early days must have been really exciting, because the lack of a self-aware movement meant that the rules were more flexible. "Heavy metal" as a cultural term had existed by the late 70s, but it would be another ten years before all the major sub-genres were conceived, so there's a wealth of oddball releases during that period that flirt between different styles.

myk mentioned the retrospective labeling of metal genres and this is directly related to my point about the significance of the early days. If playing black metal meant litle more than playing Satanic-themed metal (which it did, until the Norwegians made an active effort to specifically define it in the early 90s). From there on out, black metal primarily referred to a tremelo-picked, ominous, repetitive, minimalistic, punkish style of metal. I've read comments about black metal "having no rules," and yet this narrow aesthetic as defined by the Norwegians effectively restricted how creative you could be within the genre. Anyone who played a particularly eccentric variant (Blut Aus Nord, Enslaved, Dødheimsgard, current Darkthrone) suddenly ends up having an extra suffix attached to their genre.

That's probably the main thing that bugs me about metal as a whole. As much as I love it, there's very little adventuring outside of comfortable boundaries. A few very weird groups, like Mr. Bungle, Darth Vegas, Old Lady Drivers, Tomahawk, Naked City and the Flying Luttenbachers, have stepped so far outside the box that critics have no choice but to throw the "avant garde" label at them, but most groups end up being considered experimental or "out there" simply for having proggy tendencies or tacking on a gimmick like swing music or a circus organ.

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