On Metal Transcriptions and Metal Music Percussion

Article by David Rosales

This very entertaining cover of Iron Maiden’s song ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ as performed by a bass clarinet quartet was posted on Youtube a few years ago. The instruments take on the melodic lines of the song, which was aptly selected as it is rich in them. This experiment is not only fun to listen to but interesting in how a different instrumentation highlights one aspect of the music while utterly losing a whole dimension exploited by the original composition.

The clarity of melody and harmony is quite enhanced here and so their study and appreciation by the guitar student seeking to learn and emulate this aspect of the song will greatly benefit from this adaptation. However, the loss of the power chord, and particularly the power chord played on the distorted electric guitar means the loss of an ocean of artificial artifacts that form the bulk of the richness of sound of the instrument and which lend metal and hard rock music one of its distinctive aural characteristics.

The necessary absence of the drum set is seen by the more classically-oriented music fan or musician as, perhaps, negligible, but this is only because of the widespread ignorance (either through pop culture or academic music indoctrination) about the relevance of percussion in metal. Contrary to the now-traditional view of percussion as a less important aspect of music (which, in fact, flies in the face of many traditional folk musics around the world, where it is recognized and studied by academicians yet still seen with derision as “primitive”), this reliance that metal has exhibited in increasing amounts is not a measure of scarcity of content or artistic deficiency, but rather the appearance of an unknown variable.

Metal percussion in its most advanced states, that is, in its use in the more artistically (as opposed to technically) developed subgenres of death and black metal shows a usage and expansion that just does not exist in traditional or experimental classical music. As such, academicians have no precedent by which to measure or qualify this. They should perform field research, they should listen, but they are too comfortable and busy feeling self-important. This is the sad state of the intellectually self-gratifying (and ‘morally’ bankrupt) art that results from two centuries of overarching materialism, corruption and decay.

Many would point to the obvious origin of metal percussion in traditional rock, and that is factually right, yet its use and direction has gone far beyond it and in some cases taken cues even from electronic music (especially in the case of some black metal)and jazz music (in the case of some death metal). Metal percussion incorporates aspects of these and has built a whole new art out of it that could be considered the more spiritual child of the pleasure-oriented and technically-nuanced jazz (Editor’s note: DMU has written about this very hypothesis in the deep past).

The future and refinement of metal this metal percussion should not to reside in the empty groove explorations of fusion as seen in djent nor in the facetious exercises of tekdeth which may even borrow directly from genres such as samba in their search for “entertaining and interesting” bits to play, regardless of how this may affect the character of the music. Also defunct inside are the dead-end and superficial attempts at applications of abstract concepts in nu-black metal and war metal. As in all other aspects of the already-cemented, fully-formed language of metal, the role of its percussion and its abstract concepts have been made known implicitly in the music of the classics. Go, listen, study, learn, apply.

 

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How to make a digital promo kit (DPK) or electronic promo kit (EPK)

hard_at_work

Bands: if you want to get signed, you will need to send promos. First you will send them to labels, which will sign you eventually. Then you will send them to media, including record reviewers. Labels: you will do the same. Promoters: ditto. So how do you send a promo in this day and age?

The current standard, which thankfully does away with piles of physical promos, is to send an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) or Digital Promotions Kit (DPK) which mean roughly the same thing. Your EPK will be a zip archive containing your release in MP3, photos and a press release/biography. Each of these parts offers its own challenge.

MP3s should be of a decent bitrate, usually 256k or Variable Bit Rate (VBS) equivalent, and should be tagged appropriately with band name, album name and track name correct and consistent. The MP3s themselves should be in a folder within the archive named Band Name – Album Name. This enables writers to extract it completely and view the files as they write. If you are using Exact Audio Copy or a similar program, settings allow you to specific correct tagging by default. I also recommend installing Windows Media Player 11 and using the Fraunhofer MP3 codec which is superior to the LaME codec which tends to make heavily distorted music sound plastic. I use the following naming scheme in EAC:

Individual artist:

%artist%\%artist% - %albumtitle%\%artist% - %tracknr2% - %title%

Various artists:

various\%albumtitle%\%albumtitle% - %tracknr2% - %artist% - %title%

Press releases should fit standard format, which is an entirely different article, and include full contact information for the label and promotions agency. If you include band contact information, people will contact the band; if the band does not reply, do not include this information and have them contact the band through the promotions agency. Include the biography in here, generally a paragraph or two but not more. Also useful to include are all band public sites such as Facebook where the band might post more images or information as needed.

Images should include at least the cover art and a band photo, but many bands include logos as well for use as headers. These pictures should all be large (800px+) and in a format such as JPG or ideally PNG, which is not lossy like JPG.

Once you do all of the above, put the files into a zip archive and make it available to reviewers. Many use services like Haulix to make it easy to limit downloads to specific reviewers, and to embed codes in the work which identify who each package went to in case it gets leaked. In my view, labels should worry less about piracy from this angle because the release will inevitably be pirated and your only real recourse is to DMCA search engines to keep it out of the listings so that people are encouraged to buy it or stream it through a licensed streaming service like Spotify, Pandora or Last.fm. For this reason, lately more labels have simply been linking to their DropBox folders in acknowledgement of the impossibility of stopping all leaks, and it takes just one to spread it everywhere — or someone at a record store who drops the album into a computer for ten minutes to rip and upload it, as seems to happen in Russia and Latin America much to the delight of downloaders worldwide.

The above is written in the hopes of receiving fewer incomplete or botched promo packages. As stated elsewhere, most labels spend little time on getting these right because they want reviewers to spend as little time on the music as possible, and because the people who write the reviews the labels will republish are those who are making a personal connection with staff at the label in hopes of future hiring or collaboration. But for a starting band or label this advice may be helpful.

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Arctic Music relaunches with Julian Hollowell (Kult of Azazel) at the helm

arctic_music_collage

Arctic Music Group (AMG), famed for quality death metal releases at reasonable cost in the early 2000s, will restructure itself into Arctic Media (AM) along with its imprint labels Arctic Music, Frozen North and Punktuation!.

Under the leadership of Julian Hollowell (Kult of Azazel, Hateplow) Arctic Music and Punktuation! will focus on extreme metal and punk. Under Ricktor Ravensbrück (Electric Hellfire Club), Frozen North will focus on electronic and industrial music. Finally, Mike Gallo of SBS Recordings will lead the new label imprint Blue Light which will focus on blues, country, reggae and world music.

Current roster artists include Vein Collector, Kult ov Azazel, Hod, Ptahil, and the most recent signing, iconic electro/rock/industrial act The Electric Hellfire Club. New releases have already been scheduled into summer of 2014. AMG will continue to work with distributor MVD, which will ensure its product will be available in all formats worldwide, both physical and digital. The label plans an emphasis on vinyl and other formats in addition to standard CD and digital downloads.

Viewing itself as a “a label run by musicians for musicians,” AMG has pursued musicians of longstanding status in the underground to implement its new vision. The label is currently accepting and reviewing submissions from artists and will also consider licensing existing releases from artists whose current contract terms have expired.

Submissions may be sent to:

Arctic Music Group (AMG)
PO Box 23308
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33307

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Interview: Brian Kirkmeyer who teaches “Metal on Metal: Engineering and Globalization in Heavy Metal Music”

Brian Kirkmeyer

For some time we have delved into academia and its treatment of heavy metal. Today however we take another course, which is to look at the technology of heavy metal and its implications for both society and technology.

Aiding us in this quest is Dr. Brian Kirkmeyer, who teaches “Metal on Metal: Engineering and Globalization in Heavy Metal Music” at Miami University in Oxford, OH. He was good enough to gift us with some of this time explaining the class and his approach to the study of heavy metal.

You’re teaching an engineering class on the advances in technologies and how they have affected heavy metal music. Can you tell us what types of technologies these are? What are the “defining characteristics” of heavy metal that these have impacted?

I focus on the foundational characteristics of loudness and distortion and then expand from there. This means a lot of electronics, from signal generation via pickups and strings to amplification systems to signal modification via pedals, and mechanical design, including materials selection and manufacturing processes. I integrate these and more engineering aspects with the musical and cultural developments that have happened over the past 50 years.

How does global culture factor into this? Are you speaking of communications technologies here? For global culture, it is on a number of different levels.

“Global” for me and my university is really “non-local,” so we mean both around the world and just outside of immediate familiar surroundings. Heavy metal culture is foreign to a lot of my students, so the class is global for those students. We discuss international perceptions and usage of metal as a vehicle for socio-political commentary. We discuss the demographic aspects of metal as compared to that of larger popular musical culture. We discuss tape trading as the precursor to file sharing, and how there is a worldwide impact that affects band popularity and new band formation. It literally hits on about everything I can squeeze into the class about exploring beyond students’ comfort zones and knowledge bases.

What types of heavy metal do you study in the course?

I start with metal’s pre-history (Wagner, the blues, jazz, surf) and go forward from there. I cover about everything…if it’s in Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast and Sam Dunn’s work, I address it. I spend the most time on the development of the various subgenres, and how certain technologies have manifested at certain points in time, and try to wrap up with more current trends and expected musical pathways. By and large, students don’t know their history of music in general (let alone metal), and so I try to build that history toward what they DO know.

I understand you’re a heavy metal listener, having recently attended a GWAR live show. What types of metal do you listen to? When did you become a metalhead?

I got into metal at age 8 due to Def Leppard’s “On Through the Night,” but didn’t really look the part until I was in eighth grade. I fit the young white male demographic, but I’ve never been blue-collar despite growing up in a union town and becoming an engineer. I mostly like NWOBHM, 70s metal, Thrash, Progressive and various Extreme subgenres, and will listen to about everything. Glam metal is even metal to me (David Lee Roth/Poison was my first show), and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to hear more styles and bands, and expose people to more of what I like by introducing them to bands that I think fit their musical tastes. Iron Maiden is my all-time favorite band, and right now I’m into Kyng and Skeletonwitch pretty strongly.

Brian Kirkmeyer

What is, in your view, the historical importance of heavy metal, and does it signal any changes in the underlying course of human history, technological or otherwise?

Heavy metal’s technological importance is huge. If not for people wanting to make music louder, angrier, or more powerful, we would all still be playing six-string guitars and four-string basses and having relatively small amps. Because of metal, there is a ready market for 8-string guitars that engineers have had to figure out how to design and manufacture, along with all of the supported technology that goes with it (larger pickups, more robust bridges, wider necks, etc.). I also think that heavy metal has been a (not necessarily “the”) primary social voice for rebellion, and a more recent vehicle for the drive for social equality in many other countries (see Heavy Metal Islam by Mark LeVine). I’d like to think that the more that people find avenues to release stress and express their views through music, the less we will hear about people shooting up schools and movie theaters. So far, that hasn’t been the case, and so changing the course of human history is still a work in progress.

What has response been like from your students? Are they metalheads?

The students seem to love the class. I’d say that at the start of a given semester, about 20% of the students are metalheads and many of the rest of them take the class because it either sounds interesting, fulfills a math liberal education requirement, or think I’d be fun as an instructor. By the end of the semester, I’ve usually converted (at some level) about half of the non-metalheads into quasi-metalheads or better, and most of the rest have a greater appreciation for metal and its culture. The most satisfying thing, though, is that the class helps break down barriers and stereotypes that students have, and students really start thinking differently about the world around them and their interactions with it. Self-reflection is a HUGE part of the class.

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? How did you get involved in academia? What motivated you to be involved with engineering and computing?

Full disclosure…engineering wasn’t my first goal. I wanted to be a stand-up comic (Eddie Murphy was an idol), then an NFL quarterback, then a rock star, and THEN an engineer. I’ve always been in the gifted programs in school, but I was also always the class clown/athlete/music expert too, so I was never part of any particular cliques in school. I started college (Purdue U) with the intent of getting a job as an engineer, despite not really knowing what that meant. I liked to learn new stuff, whatever it was, and I was largely the only engineer in college who cared about liberal education. I decided to get my doctorate in engineering (U of Pennsylvania) because my BS degree job was pretty blah.

My first post-PhD job was managing a lab and working an electron microscope. Never put the class clown/lead singer/QB personality in a dark closed room by themselves… :) My mother-in-law got me to consider academia, as she pointed me to a job (my current one) where my personality was going to be core, and my technical chops were nice to have along for the ride.

I love what I do, because I recruit, advise, teach, help, and everything else that my “social me” needs to do. I’ve earned an endowment to my position because I throw myself and my passion into everything I do here. I’ve got the respect here that allows me to not only propose a heavy metal-and-engineering class, but also get it approved and part of the liberal education plan and have it accepted as an honors course. Now I get to include metal as a regular part of my job, and it’s GREAT!

Brian Kirkmeyer

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Why I listen to music on YouTube and left my MP3 player behind

death_metal_unlocks_divinityLike most of you, I experience a prevalence of dual-use time in my life. That is, I have to be here at the computer doing something, but like most things in “mature” “adult” “responsible” society it takes half a brain at best, so I put on some tunes and shift most of my brain and mind that way.

Originally, back in the dire proto-technological days of the 1980s, we had to manually throw on an LP, CD or cassette to hear music. Otherwise, there was the radio, but there wasn’t as much choice there. Radio was both the last resort, and a way to hear new music. It served a sacred role in the latter and could be an event in its role as the former.

If the rare metal show in your area showed up only one night a week, that became party night while you and your buddies checked in for the weekly connection to the world of metal. Sometimes, it was just for fun. It was easier to let someone else DJ and pick the tunes, and if the price you had to pay was every third tune being a stinker, no big deal.

Then in the late 1990s, people started getting crazy with the multi-disc changers. Now you could have five or six discs in rotation and just let them roll. Put in what you wanted, throw it on repeat, and listen for three hours or longer. I used to put my Harmon-Kardon on shuffle repeat and bathe people in music of disparate form but similar content, which created an immersive wave of exploration in that topic.

But it all changed with broadband and the evolution of the MP3 codec. When we launched our radio station back in 1997, the Frauhnofer MP3 codec we used was really excellent. But since that time, innovations have occurred in variable bit rate, compression and sound dynamics that add on to that strong basis. Now MP3s are a better delivery mechanism than tape and, given adjustments for physical electronics degrading sound, almost as good as CD.

Listening to music via MP3 was different however. Generally, you saved a ton of MP3 files to some directory on your Winchester disk. Then you pitched those into a playlist and started somewhere. The player would, like a merciless harvester of ears, keep going until you told it to stop. So it was more like tuning into a radio station whose playlist you chose, but one which favored sequential albums. You could also randomize.

The problem with this style of listening — as you’ve guessed, doubtless, being the intelligent reader — is that it’s autopilot. Want to listen to Slayer? With two clicks you’ve launched everything beginning with “S,” and then the playlist begins again when it runs out of those. You can conceivably keep your entire record collection streaming in the background.

However that loss of choice can be disturbing. You’re no longer choosing to listen to something past the first choice. You get caught up in the playlist. If you randomize, it’s only a little bit better. In the end, it’s like radio without the human intervention of the DJ, and takes power away from you.

This is why I’ve come to enjoy YouTube. It’s like putting an LP on the record player more than anything else. I think of an album; I type the name and “full album” (LOL search engines) into YouTube, and up pops a version of it. I hit play, and sit back and listen to it. But then comes the magic: when it’s done, it’s done. I have to manually, physically and deliberately choose another piece of music or sit in silence.

In this, I get the best of both worlds. The (nostalgia aside) beauty of choice, where you have to walk to the shelves, think of an album, find it according to your filing system, and then manually put it on the player. And yet, the promise of digital technology and convenience of MP3s: no record you can scratch, no CD you can fumble, no cassette to entangle. The two are united by typing that search into the YouTube site.

There’s some ethical issues of course. I’d be happier if all bands posted official full albums so I could kick them the $0.02 per play that YouTube pays. In the end, that might pay more than traditional record contracts; I don’t know. Most bands don’t seem to care, as many of us using YouTube are doing so in places where we can’t bring our record collections, like work, friends’ houses, church, missile silo, etc.

But at the end of the day, what really matters about music is preserving the magic. That sense that behind the next corner, something amazing lurks. A buried treasure; an undiscovered secret. An explosion of imagination, or emotion, or even pure logical calculation. That life is ongoing, and infinite, and we’ll always find something new to quest after.

Ultimately, this is what makes YouTube compelling. It requires a choice. There is no constant rolling playlist. I must go to the site, type in the band name and album name, and start the process. This makes me the person in charge who then rapidly loses control as the music sweeps over me. This is the experience of listening, and in this sense, YouTube brings back the beauty of the LP with the convenience of the iPod.

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The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.

While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.

Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BajdtSD0eWk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lt14WQ1w0

Neptune Towers

A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.


Beherit

This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.


Ildjarn

Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.


Lord Wind

A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.


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Floaty music

One of the hidden influences on death metal, along with classical and progressive rock, was the wave of inventive ambient and electronica that came out in the 1970s.

In particular, this music like death metal, was highly structured in that verse-chorus structures would turn it into droning tedium. Thus it invented the narrative structures later used by death metal, the “riff gluing” as explained by Asphyx.

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Classical Music for Metal Fans

Underground metal — the more artistic and less crowd-pandering arm of the heavy metal genre — headed downwards in quality simultaneously heading upward in quantity, starting in about 1994. As the old bands got sick of their day jobs and sold out in failing bids to become “professional” musicians like crowd-pandering heavy metal, and the new bands started imitating the effects of older metal without knowing the causes, underground death metal and black metal fans began casting out for something new.

Our choices are bleak. We can try jazz, but it’s not only pompous, repetitive and random, but also the exact contrary spirit to what metal espouses: a charging ahead and saying YES to life by accepting the intolerant and violent aspects of nature as necessary for its beauty. Jazz is socialization music. So is rock, pop, etc. What’s left? We could listen to neofolk, but after about three albums it becomes clear that neofolk is a sham, namely bad rock music that sells because it is controversial and played acoustically sometimes like folk music. Then there’s electronica, which has a few acts but is mostly more party music. Popular music does not offer another genre with the power and sincerity of metal, so instead you get “soul” which means blind compassion and encourages, rather than discourages, submission to conformity.

There is an option but unfortunately for modern listeners, it does not conform to the production values of rock, so you can’t throw it on and have it aggressively grab your head the way loud-mastered, constant syncopated drumming and “soulful” human wailing will. It requires you to clear your desk, empty your mind and listen with your whole attention, and as a result it’s less convenient than the junk they’ll sell you at the record store. It’s not as cheap to produce or promote either, which is why that record store is there — listening to classical is not just bucking a trend, it’s bucking an industry based around trends, and the same industry that afflicts metal and turns good bands into crowd-pandering drek.

For the metalhead looking to get into classical music there is almost no recognition of this effect. The classical fans have no idea how to communicate with metalheads (and generally don’t understand or like metal, conflating Guns and Roses with Demilich, Atheist and Gorguts in the most oblivious way possible) and the classical industry has been sidelined for so long that it has no idea how to explain the beauty of classical or give modern listeners a chance. It operates like a cult, assuming that those who are in the cult belong there and everyone else is crazy — not a horrible assumption, you’ll find after six months of listening to classical, given the wide gulf of quality and brainpower between classical and mainstream music.

To address this problem, we list here some good introductory pieces and recordings for metalheads. Unlike popular music, classical music is written by a composer, shaped by a conductor and performed by an orchestra — and that does not even take into account different recording times, technologies and locations. So there’s another four layers on top of the mind-numbingly-simple “Band Name – Album Name” that we’re accustomed to, thanks to metal’s heritage in rock. These pieces are here because they capture the spirit of metal — a Romanticist transcendental idealism — in a way that eases you into the transition.

  1. Brahms, Johannes – The Four Symphonies

    Pure Romanticism, which is the most beautiful classical genre but also its most easily misled into human emotional confusion. Flowing, diving, surging passages which storm through tyrannical opposition to reach some of the most Zen states ever put to music.

    Four Symphonies by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  2. Respighi, Ottorino – Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome

    Italian music is normally inconsequential. This has an ancient feeling, a sense of weight that can only be borne out in an urge to reconquest the present with the past.

    Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome by Louis Lane/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

  3. Schubert, Franz – Symphonies 8 & 9

    A sense of power emerging from darkness, and a clarity coming from looking into the halls of eternity, as translated by the facile hand of a composer who wrote many great pieces before dying young.

    Symphonies 8 & 9 by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  4. Saint-Saens, Camille – Symphony 3

    Like DeBussy, but with a much wider range, this modernist Romantic rediscovers all that is worth living in the most warlike and bleak of circumstances.

    Symphony No. 3 by Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra

  5. Bruckner, Anton – Symphony 4

    Writing symphonic music in the spirit of Wagner, Bruckner makes colossal caverns of sound which evolve to a sense of great spiritual contemplation, the first “heaviness” on record.

    Romantic Symphony by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  6. Berwald, Franz – Symphony 2

    The passion of Romantic poetry breathes through this light and airy work which turns stormy when it, through a ring composition of motives, seizes a clear statement of theme from its underlying tempest of beauty.

    Symphony No. 2 by David Montgomery/Jena Philharmonic

  7. Paganini, Niccolo – 24 Caprices

    Perhaps the original Hessian, this long-haired virtuoso wore white face paint, had a rumored deal with the devil, and made short often violent pieces that made people question their lives and their churches.

    24 Caprices by James Ehnes

  8. Anner Bylsma and Lambert Orkis – Sonatas by Brahms and Schumann

    We list these by performer because this informal and sprightly interpretation is all their own. Played on period instruments, it captures the beauty and humor of these shorter pieces with the casual knowledge of old friends.

    Brahms: Sonatas for Piano and Cello; Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston

Some conductors do an excellent job of certain styles, and so get picked more than others. Herbert von Karajan, in particular, is the original master of the Faustian style of conducting Northern European classical music. Certain performers like Orkis and Bylsma are also preferred for their ability to interpret certain ideas that — like genres have ideas in common and as a result, sounds in common — composers explored as part of their collective membership in certain time periods or recurring ideas, like the Faustian, the Romantic and the reverent/sublime outlook, all of which are shared between metal and classical.

These similarities in composition explain why metal and classical have a lot in common — and this is why the correct interpretors are needed. Rock is harmonic-rhythmic, metal is phrasal-narrative. When making rock music, you pick a rhythm, and then use a standard song form or variation to fit it into a scale, which in turn determines harmony. Rock riffs are not as active or as shaped as metal riffs, because generally they are variations within a scale whose goal is to return to the chord being played; they are based around open chords and lead rhythm playing of the scale. Metal is phrasal, meaning that its riffs take the form of phrases made of power chords, and narrative, which means that metal song structure is determined by content of each song more than by a standard form — that’s the infamous “riff salad” rock musicians bemoan in metal.

Classical music also uses narrative composition. While imbeciles will focus on its fixed forms — sonata, fugue, aria — the more important idea here is that the song follows the poetic content being expressed. This mirrors the epic poetry of ancient European and Indian civilizations, where it was understood that each adventure had stages of ritual, much like we have stages in acceptance of death or change. As a result, there was a need for an overture, a reconsideration, some changes and a recapitulation and synthesis of themes, and these got formalized in the song structures that today imbeciles regard as iron laws. The narrative style however is the common thread in classical music from its beginning to the present.

In rock music, you write to fit the scale to the rhythm, and then melody is added to accentuate that. This is easier work because all of the real variables are defined by the form. Similarly, in jazz, the form is fixed and within it the player riffs off harmony and rhythm, and inserts fragments of melody to that end — this is why most jazz artists make thousands of recordings of a song, and only one or two are considered “the real deal” by collectors: without the artist making it happen, cerebrally, the pieces fit together by random convenience. Classical works by the opposite principle, which is creating or adapting a general form to the poetic needs of a piece — expressing the change in both listener and “actor” within the story or feeling being related — and then designing a combination of rhythm, melody, theme, motif and form to express it well.

Metal is similar, although less schooled in this regard, because it seeks to express a similar worldview — underlying philosophical assumptions about life — to that of classical. Metal is reverent for the sublime; it sees the power and the horror of nature as necessary for its perpetuation, and is like nature intolerant of the oblivious and unrealistic because they create a parasitic slowdown of the exciting experiences in life. It derives much of its thematic development from the pace of horror movies, in which a few “awakened” people realize that they face a supernatural — or invisible pattern underlying all reality — foe against which technology and their oblivious, unrealistic social partners are useless. Finally, metal like classical expresses the Faustian spirit, or a sense of struggling for the rare and inconvenient beauty life offers, and fighting back those who submit to static obedience or dogma; this sense of purity through struggle is called vir, or the virtuous warlike acts of ancient man. These themes repeat throughout classical music, like metal, and while there are exceptions, it’s more than a coincidence that the best among metal and classical use these themes repeatedly.

If you find yourself enjoying the above, we recommend you move on to other classical music that expresses these ideas, and bypass the trendier “new music” and quirky classical that your friends, in an attempt to impress you with how knowledgeable or non-normal they are, will tell you are important. Our attitude is different: build outward from the greats and later get into the novelties like “new music” or Eric Satie, Charles Ives or John Cage, if you decide at that point that you want to explore postmodernism, which is deconstruction of all that metal and classical music desire. In any case, we hope you enjoy the music and can turn on some friends to this treasure of musical beauty that hides in plain sight amongst us.

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Roots of Evil: The Origins of Metal

With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.

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