Heavy Metal and musical composition

Thought that this post would be about something slightly different from the last few.

To start off let me say that I am a big fan of different kinds of music and genres, listening to rock, heavy metal, classical, bluegrass, folk, jazz, blues, world music (more accurately traditional music from different countries) etc. But what has interested me recently is the musical talent that is often lost when playing certain forms of heavy metal.

Over the last couple of days I have listened to several podcasts showcasing acoustic pieces from a variety of heavy metal bands. What particularly struck me while listening to these songs were the musician ship and composition strength shown by a significant number of these bands. This however was not the most striking thing, what really got me about these particular podcasts was that a significant number of the bands who were playing unplugged normally played such sub-genres as Doom, Death, and Black Metal which all seem to resemble loud noises than actual musical compositions (Yes this is a personal opinion on these sub-genres of heavy metal).

There was a striking contrast between these groups normal styles and that of the acoustic music, there were certain tracks that demonstrated a brilliant musicality in the bands/guitarists who could do proper finger picking and slide, vocalists who demonstrated a wide range in their voices along with a wonderful of simple musicality in the compositions, key changes, time changes, harmonies, melodies and thoughtfulness. One particular piece stuck me with a series of vocal harmonies that reminded me in some small way of some pieces of music that I heard during a concert of Tudor music, which had music by such composers as William Byrd and Thomas Tallis.

I am not making a direct comparison between this metal band and these Tudor composers, however the melodies and harmonies that I heard during this particular piece were wonderful. But more than anything it suggests that a significant amount of musical talent appears to be wasted by musicians who play in these metal bands. Similarly there are often explanations about how certain well known poets, historical figures or events have influenced a song and perhaps made their way into the lyrics, and yet I cannot make out any real words, so I don’t see how the poet or event is at all relevant.

And yet I also listen to heavy metal and so I am not suggesting that this music is a waste of time and space, since it has a large following and is clearly something that people put a lot of effort into. I just feel that perhaps there should be more of these acoustic songs that can be used to show off the talents of the musicians and songwriters in such bands instead of the constant wall of noise that many of these bands appear to create rather than music.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

One Response to Heavy Metal and musical composition

  1. inushinde says:

    So glad I checked out this post out of curiosity. I’ve always been an avid listener of heavy metal, especially the more extreme genres that you listed. Most of these sub-genres don’t seek to wow with technicality or bring across a message; some are just all about creating atmosphere.

    Black metal is a particularly notable example of this, being one of the most easily ascribed the “Wall of noise” description. Many of its practitioners (Hellhammer from Mayhem aside, because he’s probably the best drummer I know) aren’t really all that concerned with making their music all that accessible. Since most traditional black metal emulates the “We make this music as evil sounding as possible, damn the consequences” mentality of Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Burzum, it’s all about making the sound as dark as can be.
    Of course you have your exceptions in the more progressive bands like Satyricon, Ulver, and Emperor, the latter of which is probably one of the best symphonic bands out there, but atmosphere is their main priority.

    I’d go into the others, but I’m afraid of making this comment a tad too lengthy. Long story short, despite likely being easier to appreciate in acoustic form, the compositions would lose a certain edge if they weren’t distorted and drowned out by blast beats to Hell and back. If you want to hear good examples that don’t lose that edge though, I suggest giving Empyrium, Ulver, and Agalloch a listen. Agalloch in particular is magnificent and well worth the attention.

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