Musical Dissection of Pestilence “Out of the Body”

Once upon a time Pestilence were a very capable death/speed metal band that would attain great heights with the their magnum opus Consuming Impulse. Leaving behind the speed metal of Malleus Maleficarum for greater freedom in melody and structure, “Out of the body” is by far the most popular track on this album due to its catchy main riff, guitar acrobatics and absolute intensity.

Those are only the surface traits of what makes this song and the album a bonafide death metal classic.

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Analysis of Death Metal Vocalists

Gutteral vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles.  Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently.  And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.

In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years:
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Heavy Metal In Academia

The last two decades has witnessed an exponential growth of studies devoted to popular music, coupled with a re-evaluation of past theories and models for interpretation and analysis. This paradigm shift has sparked interest in music “at the fringes” which in turn has led to the unlikely emergence of “metal studies”: a multi-disciplinary field of research centered around all things related to metal music.

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Pestilence Attempts Comeback But Forgets What Makes Death Metal Great

Listen to a track from the upcoming Hadeon from longstanding Dutch band Pestilence, one is immediately struck by the similarity to late-1990s Morbid Angel: the riffs are there, albeit a bit impatient and tightly circular, but the whole experience is not. What is missing? To understand this, we must go to the core of what made death metal what it is.

If you wanted to explain to a normal person what death metal is, looking at the core of its spirit, you might haul out Slayer Hell Awaits, Hellhammer Apocalyptic Raids, and Bathory The Return… because these influenced the techniques, composition, and spirit of death metal. From Hellhammer and Slayer, it got its song structure and aesthetics; from Bathory its themes and riff technique.

Death metal took the original idea of metal, formed when Black Sabbath and others began using power chords to make phrasal riffs instead of harmony-oriented open chord riffs, and developed it further. This is different than doing something “new” or “progressing” because it means undertaking the much harder task of developing an idea further at a structural level instead of just changing aesthetics.

With the rise of underground metal, death metal adopted chromatic riffing and made the interplay between riffs form a narrative to each song. This abolished typical rock song structure and, because the guitar served as a melodic instrument instead of a harmonic one, forced vocals, bass and drums into a background role. How well the riffs fit together and portrayed an atmosphere, idea, or sensation defined the quality of the music.

Pestilence came from a solid death metal background with Consuming Impulse but showed a speed metal styled approach on Malleus Maleficarum, and this tension has stayed with the band for its entire career. The speed metal style of verse and chorus built on a singular theme that is present in the music is easier to jam on and use harmony to complement, where death metal rarely explicitly states its theme, only silhouetting it in the interaction between its many riffs. With speed metal, bands can set up a chord progression and develop it in layers of internal commentary like jazz, and this puts vocals back in position number one among the lead instruments.

“Non-Physical Existent” is a two-riff song with both based on the same note progression. It creates its intensity through the clash between a ripping circular high speed riff and a slower chromatic riff that uses odd harmony to distinguish notes in an otherwise linear theme. The song breaks into a solo section over one of the riffs, and has a type of turnaround the drops into the faster riff as a return. But there is no real interplay nor any narrative.

From the riffs themselves, this is a good song, but unfortunately, it is not death metal. Nor will it last because essentially it is a closed-circuit video of itself, a riff commented on by another, without resembling any particular experience or emotion, therefore being a null journey, more like stasis in space while riffs loop. It is better than not bad, but still not of real interest to the death metal fan.

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Thorns – Thorns

Anyone hoping for a classic or revitalizing take on the black metal genre should take note of the path taken by the acknowledged co-creator of its infamous guitar style: Snorre “Blackthorn” Ruch.  On the debut album of his creation Thorns (delayed almost a decade by his misfortune presence at the scene of Euronymous’s murder), he finds himself aided by some of the genre’s most renowned musicians who, through their own bands, shared a similar direction themselves.   Although a careful listen reveals that Thorns S/T was able to surpass above mentioned bands on many levels, it is also immediately obvious that it is indeed part of the unfortunate route into industrial/electronics taken by many in the “extreme metal” genre during the early 2000s.  Much like their countrymen in Emperor, Enslaved, and Arcturus, Thorns found themselves on a strange journey that an old issue of Terrorizer magazine accurately described as “The Weirding of Norway.”
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Sin and Despair in Deathcrush

At the truest heart of metal lies a voice embodied, somewhat childishly, somewhat ineptly, but no less clearly and latent with potential, by Mayhem’s Deathcrush. The re-inversion of all values that metal enacts starts with the embracing of what modernity would see as its sickness unto death. The despair and sin of sickness unto death become vital active elements in the morbid minds of those who would vanquish dogmatic preconceptions in the Sky God Religions and their secular humanist counterparts.  Being, in essence a way of connecting back to itself, the ideological blockages set up by this dead-end society had to be faced head on.  Herein lies the relevance and meaning of the present album.  Despair is converted into pure energy, the rules disavowed, the road of sin is tread fanatically as a method of purification —a negative unity of evil towards the beyond, away from human-ness in its modern form, away from mundanity.  For the burgeoning underground, as seen from Mayhem’s perspective, primacy would placed on being and its dark discovery of self, against the presumption of knowing, and the oppressive, futile impositions from above.  All knowing, all value of music, would come from this ‘being’, from a dark exploration of the soul possessed by a cosmic force of destruction.

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Kvedulf Gunnar Larsson The Alternative of Real Ecology

The present book claims to be a presentation, an advocacy, but nothing more. It is not a discussion, a justification or the beginning of a debate, all of which are pointless and do not constitute the carrying out of actions that actually make a difference. Discussing, debating and justifying, argues Larsson, are within the realm of popular environmentalism, which is nothing else but a flavor-of-the-week, feel-good tapping on the back of those who claim to care for the environment but do not care enough to set aside the delusion of human privilege (including the trend in ‘Green’ products, and the necessity to pander to what is popular, rather than necessary or real). Despite a certain radicalism inherent to Real Ecology (‘radical’ by virtue of being ‘real’), it is clearly distinguished from so-called Eco-Terrorism, because of its completely ineffectual, short-sighted action that simply remains all-too-human: undecisive because of its avoidance of doing actual harm. Real Ecology, is rather the personal choice of non-contribution, as in the reduction of one’s eco-print to the minimum.

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The Imperial Reign of Emperor

The most technically and musically gifted band of the Norwegian black metal scene, the legendary Emperor are also the most well known outside of the documentary-level engagement that plagues most who know of Burzum and Mayhem.  Formed in the small rural town of Telemark Norway as a side project to a soon-forgotten death metal band, the group overcame the imprisonment of 75% of it’s lineup to deliver the most grandiose album of early 90s black metal.  Though Emperor’s career was far from perfect, it made a profound impact on the young genre and ultimately proved it’s limitless developmental possibility.
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Mayhem Grand Declaration of War

A common theme you hear in critiquing music is the need to separate the art from the artist for the most objective analysis possible.  This all sounds good on paper, but we are all human, and the flaws that imbues in us make our understanding of all concepts skewed by perspective.  The metal path is one of social outcast and self-discovery through a grasp of the larger whole, and as such we are left with the purest essence of form and function, but still we allow our humanness to cloud our judgments inevitably.  We won’t give the time of day to a record made by some stretch-lobed lumbersexual even if he might have accidentally produced the next necessary evolution in metal, and we like it that way.  We have been proven right long enough by lousy records and “evolutions” of our favorite artists but although we may have erected a necessary safeguard for quality control, we need to analyze if it is constructed of statements and proofs of inherent positive musical traits or our own hubris instead.
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