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Author Topic: What characterizes metal?  (Read 213 times)

Offline Noumenon

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What characterizes metal?
« on: August 02, 2017, 01:36:34 AM »
Okay, I know that navel-gazing discussions about genre are kind of pointless. But I want to talk about the brass tacks of what makes metal, metal. We don't have to agree on some specific set of criteria. I just want to try and puzzle out a general sense of the genre. We don't have to come up with a list. I just want to hear what people here think about what metal is and try to derive soething fom it.

A little background: I became a metalhead at 14 (I'm 27 now). I've often thought that metal, because of its extreme and abrasive aesthetics, is a genre that doesn't always get a chance from musically literate people. They hear the loud guitars and growls and think it's just a cynical ploy at selling records to angsty teenagers, which is definitely not true. But I think that there really is something legitimate to metal, something that creates so many die-hard fans. I spent my youth listening to the second wave of Norwegian black metal (Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Mayhem) and a lot of early 90s death metal (Morbid Angel, Deicide, Death, Carcass), and later on got into classical, especially the Romantic era. It occurs to me that metal is very Romantic in its aesthetics:big, theatrical, over-the-top displays of emotion and aggression. In addition, a lot of black metal has a reverence for nature that you also find in Romanticism.

So the question I want to ask is this: when you hear music, you can probably think to yoruself, "Yeah, this is metal," or "Yeah, this isn't metal at all." But I want to know, what makes you say that?

Offline ReignInBloodyGore

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2017, 11:24:31 AM »
Well, I don't really have anything to contribute to your main question as I never find myself saying "this is metal" or the opposite, but I think Sargon's Metal Genres tab isn't a bad place to start. I realize, however, that your question is directed somewhere a bit different than the genres page.

What triggered me to comment was actually what you said about musically literate people's perception of Metal.  I am a professional violinist.  I teach a lot and perform in professional orchestras.  You know, those snobby musicians. But actually, orchestral musicians are way cooler and more relatable than most realize. Secondly, most professional musicians I know wouldn't criticize metal at all, though some will. I especially have known a great deal of instrumentalists who love Meshuggah.  I haven't met many people who love the old school death metal that I favor, but the truth of my path is that many professional classical musicians actually have no distaste for metal.  It's something I never would have believed if I had never shared my interest in Metal. I think now that the assumption that people don't like Metal was all in my head, based on knowing that they definitely like more radio-friendly tunes.

But anyway, I just wanted to share that. A composer friend the other day commented on my discussion with him that I didn't feel comfortable openly telling people early on that I like death metal. He said that I shouldn't worry about that because all professional musicians are weird.  Hahaha. 

Offline PetrifiedNapkin

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2017, 12:37:42 PM »
Turn on the song Pilgrim by Atlantean Kodex, wait for that main riff. Then you will know what metal is.

Everytime i hear that riff, that sums up what 100% true solid steel metal is.

What makes metal metal? Spend some time on this site and you will find reviews and editorials that can help you define it better. Things that make metal-metal are metal riffs, twin guitars (think iron maiden, judas priest), guitar solos (not always true), black leather/spikes (not always true either).

http://www.metalcrypt.com/pages/editorials.php?editorialid=19 - Metal Only

http://www.metalcrypt.com/pages/review.php?revid=5241 - Good review

http://www.metalcrypt.com/pages/editorials.php?editorialid=9 - Read down to the bottom, last paragraph-ish

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw2X2As76hs

Offline Luxi

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2017, 10:41:16 PM »
One angle viewing this is if you were born in the 60s or 70s, then you obviously say Black Sabbath or Judas Priest are Metal... But if you were born 2000+, you may well say and think bands like Slipknot or Korn for example, are Metal (just no matter if it's right or wrong by stating so).

This has naturally a lot to do with the times when you were born. I am sure if you have seen and experienced the whole circle of evolution of Heavy Rock/Metal, then you undoubtedly have a firm opinion of what Metal is - and should be, all about.   
"Live for today... tomorrow never comes".

Offline Omni

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2017, 11:10:18 PM »
It's tough because when the term "heavy metal" was first being used to describe music, a lot of the stuff it was being used to describe was not what almost anyone would consider heavy metal now.

Offline Eternal_Sorrow

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2017, 11:57:30 PM »
I think wikipedia says its best lol!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_metal_music

Offline Noumenon

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Re: What characterizes metal?
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2017, 01:45:12 AM »
PetrifiedNapkin: thanks for the article links. The "Metal Only" one hits the nail right on the head:

Quote
Second, and I think most importantly, metal is about the desire for a different or better world. Some bands do this by singing about fantasy worlds that have never existed, some by immersing themselves in a different time and place that calls out to them, even Doom bands do this, by despairing over the world they inhabit, and thus positing indirectly a better place that should exist and does not. Not every song fits this criteria, but it is a dominant theme in many bands' works, and a band that ignores these things entirely is edging out of metal country altogether. Even bands that usually sing about 'reality', will often toss in a song about gladiators, or vampires, or a Tolkien reference. It is a way of escaping, for the length of a song or an album, from this world which is so often unworthy. Even the socially conscious lyrics so prevalent with Thrash bands are not the helpless, dragging sobs common with Nu-Metal, but are rather angry and active. Again, a drive towards a better place, or at least a simpler one.

What Sargon seems to be saying here is that metal is an expression of Sehnsucht. Romanticism (which he also describes, in the paragraph following the one I quoted) is basically a revolt against the boredom and dreariness of modern life, and sehnsucht goes with that.

There's a danger of over-intellectualizing here. There are plenty of bands that just get together 'cause they wanna thrash. But there is a reason that metalheads are so loyal to our genre. And there's a reason that metal is such polarizing music; I have noticed that people that like metal (whether they're full-blown metalheads or not) tend to "get it" the same way I do. And people that don't get metal just... Don't get metal. They almost never come around to it. There's some kind of gulf there.

Quote from: ReignInBloodyGore
What triggered me to comment was actually what you said about musically literate people's perception of Metal.  I am a professional violinist.  I teach a lot and perform in professional orchestras.  You know, those snobby musicians. But actually, orchestral musicians are way cooler and more relatable than most realize. Secondly, most professional musicians I know wouldn't criticize metal at all, though some will. I especially have known a great deal of instrumentalists who love Meshuggah.

I mean, I'm not a professional musician, but I consider myself musically literate to some degree. I can write basic counterpoint and I know roughly how sonata form works. And obviously I like metal. It's just that, like I said, metal is very polarizing, and some classical people can be veeeerrrry catty when somebody steals a classical melody for a metal solo or whatever. Frankly, I think those are the kind of people who were pissed off when horns began to have valves...

It seems like people who don't like the aesthetic can still be drawn to metal purely as a technical study - a lot of jazz guys do that.

Overall, though, there's something that nags me about metal - it seems like the terms typically used in music theory aren't useful for discussing metal. Metal is mostly power chords and is not a conventionally harmonic genre like classical or jazz. It's not entirely about rhythm, either. I have thought that metal could be seen as a textural genre, like when a band plays a riff in tremolo picking and then palm-mutes it or plays it in power chords, varying the textures. And most of the musicology I see on metal just views it as a curiosity in rock music, and talks about it in those terms. That misses something special about the genre, but I don't know what.