Brief Analysis: Introduction of Satan – “Trial By Fire”

One of the few great bands from the NWOBHM movement in a genre known for a few gems in a sea of stadium and bar rock bands. While never receiving the deserved praise and success of their peers, Satan nonetheless were one of the best bands coming from the scene and used Speed metal elements in creating their magnum opus Court in the Act. On “Trial by Fire”, Satan show the large number of tools at their disposition after the opening blast of notes.

Starting with an exotic melody that jumps to a fourth and plays with a tritone. A minor second goes up a major third to the fourth before jumping back to the minor second that leads to the prolonged root note. Despite the heavy use of the tritone, the dissonance is countered by the neutral fourths and the “happy” sounding major third. While there is also an even more dissonant minor second it is also countered by the root note. These are passing tones that occur quickly and are meant to quickly create tension before being immediately released. On the second part of the melody, the actual root note is introduced through tremolo picking before returning to the first part. This adds context to the previous section and states that it is explicitly in the natural minor scale. The overall melody now sounds complete thanks to the root’s emphasis, evoking intense melancholic yet bizarrely uplifting and combative section due to the melody being resolved.

Both guitars then transpose the melody:

Guitar 1: Moves up a major third and repeats the same melody except that any instances of a tritone are replaced with a major third and then an augmented fifth

Guitar 2: Doesn’t transpose the melody but after the root note is stated the following flurry obeys the first guitar.

The root note is now harmonized in major thirds as at some points a major third would sound wrong due to it being outside the scale. This takes the previously established motifs and pushes them further towards feelings of strength and vitality. This is a very typical tool used by Iron Maiden and the better NWOBHM bands. By remaining in minor tonalities with short flirtations with dissonant tonalities before exploding into major tonalities, these artists, conveyed empowerment, hope, strength and the ability to fight in a broken world without falling into the trap of making saccharine melodies. Heavy metal is known for its dramatic flair and this could be due to the fact that many of these ideas are seen in both opera and musical comedy.

Main Riff:

The Key shifts to a B and then goes down an augmented fifth before repeating the root note and going down a fifth. Instead of going to the root note, the band jump on the augmented fifth which then repeated with a fast palm mute attack before leading to a minor third, a minor second before using the Speed metal palm mute attack to build anticipation to a descent from the fourth down to a second. This riff builds from the previous melody while using the NWHOBHM notion of on sticking to one chord and galloping until the transition to the next except that the gallop has been replaced with a full throttle attack which now adds urgency. Highlighting each chord change while removing all the dissonant and major elements adds a strong sense of sorrow to the piece without losing any of its potency. The final descent just before reaching the root note which doesn’t resolve it and grabs the listener’s attention while adding frustration. The ability to build memorable and powerful melodies from the simplest building blocks is a difficult and lost art now in metal.

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11 thoughts on “Brief Analysis: Introduction of Satan – “Trial By Fire””

  1. Spaten says:

    Your writing is hard to follow without time stamps and/or notation/tab. The riff you are describing at length in the second paragraph is the most easily made sense of as being in B phrygian dominant. If you take that scale as a reference frame, then there are no notes outside of the scale in that riff and clearly, B feels like the root as well. Also, your employment of the terminology of musical analysis is sloppy. ‘Dissonance’ describes the discordance caused by two notes sounding at the same time, not for consecutive notes.

    The last paragraph is a mess as well. I am assuming that you are describing the verse riff, which you confusingly named ‘Main Riff’, because that’s the only possibility how this even makes any sense at all. ‘Augmented fifth’? There are no augmented fifth here. You probably mean minor sixth, because we are in b natural minor now. And if we wanna be completely precise, we’d have to say that the riff, starting from the root, goes down a major third to the sixth degree of the scale (the minor sixth, which you call augmented fifth for some reason), then returns to the root before going down a perfect fourth to the fifth degree of the scale, then up a minor second to the sixth degree again (the first tremolo picked part). The rest of your description is correct except the final descent starts from the fourth degree, not the fifth. Please, if you wanna use technical language then employ it correctly. Otherwise you are just confusing or misleading your readers.

    All of this is assuming, that you’re actually describing the riffs, that I think you’re describing, which is hard to make out due to lack of time stamps/tabs and the myriad of errors making your writing hard to follow. For reference, I am assuming you are talking about the riff starting at 0:16 and for your final paragraph, the riff starting at 0:29, when the vocals enter:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Nei5Axde4

    (You also linked the intro, not the actual song)

    1. Everyone can easily find the riffs. They revert to the root note on the second part of the riff and it then falls into place perfectly, I don’t see that tremolo picked melody as being in B phrygian dominant and the A puts back into the scale. This effect exists in other styles of music where the root note is presented later on during the same melody. Dissonance is a term that is well understood here and has been used in this context in a few music manuals.

      I wouldn’t call it the verse riff as the verse is composed of two riffs. Are you seriously calling me out on enharmonic equivalence ? Useless pedantic nonsense that doesn’t really change much. Who actually cares if someone calls a G flat an F# ? made a mistake with the descent thank you for that correction. it is fairly obvious what riff is being described. The link is is a playlist of the album! You claim that there is a myriad of errors but there has only been one!

      1. Spaten says:

        As has been pointed out, there is no tritone at the beginning of the riff. The hammer on/pull is between the major third and perfect fourth. Add to that the C (the minor second) that is also present and you have as clear a phrygian dominant phrase as you can get in the first bar of the riff. All of the other notes, including the harmony that is being played, fit perfectly into B phrygian dominant. The riff has an exotic sound, which you state yourself. It is the typical exotic sound of phrygian dominant. Not to mention that the song opens with a b power chord and what you call the main riff is also centered around b. Why would you propose a bunch of changes of tonal center and out-of-the-scale notes to cram this riff into a natural minor when none of this is at all necessary?

        “The Key shifts to a B and then goes down an augmented fifth before repeating the root note and going down a fifth”
        And to address this again: This is patently incorrect, even if I let you get away with the enharmonic equivalence (that’s something you can maybe get away with as guitarist using tab. In standard notation there is very good reason for the differentiation between F# and Gb). From B down to G it is major third not aminor sixth (or augmented fifth as you say). We are landing ON the sixth degree of the scale but we are NOT going down a sixth TO GET THERE. Going DOWN a sixth and going TO the sixth are to entirely different things. You make the same mistake again saying B to F# is ‘down a fifth’.

        1. see the response to Big Timber, though you are nitpicking a lot and it is valid, I will make a few revisions to the article!

  2. Big Timber says:

    Nick

    I appreciate reading your analyses on here; I follow them thoroughly. This one bewilders me, though, because I have been playing that intro riff for years and I am having issues following your writing. Could you provide some tablature showing how you are playing it? My understanding of this riff is that it is almost entirely within the E (harmonic and melodic) minor scale and I take issue with the use of your saying they simply harmonize the intro with “major thirds”

    “Guitar 1 Moves up a major third and repeats the same melody except that any instances of a tritone are replaced with a major third and then an augmented fifth”

    Seems inaccurate because the harmony is entirely contained within the melodic minor scale. I think they do this because when you are using parallel harmony a third above a harmonic minor scale, the Augmented 6th, in this case C#, (and this goes back to Baroque music) flows naturally to the augmented 7th D#, which is the first note of the entire riff. As notes ascend the melodic minor the 6th and 7th are augmented, and on the descent become natural again. If they used a natural C ascending, this entices the riff to resolve to the fifth, but the riff never resolved that way before they harmonized, so they opted for the C# to prevent confusion.

    I have more questions such as where this tritone play comes in, but I feel like if you tabbed the riff and noted specific notes it would help answer those questions I have. Although unlikely,I could be playing it wrong myself. Thanks

    1. Well I work this from my ear because a lot of tabs are wrong and reading too many tabs creates a weird type of synesthesia where people are more concerned with what the tab looks like than the actual song.

      https://imgur.com/a/qYbkNq6

      The melodic minor tends to move around when descending or ascending and it doesn’t seem to fully fit here as there aren’t any instance of a minor third. Feel free to ask more questions, this only helps me improve.

      1. Big Timber says:

        Unless you tune your B string to a B#/C that “4” to “4 5 4” does not contain any tritones, which is the basis of my confusion.

        There could be a tritone between the D# (4th fret B string) and root note tremolo picked A (2nd fret A string) but the band does not exploit this in the riff. I chose to view the riff through melodic minor only for the purpose of explaining the harmonization of the C# vs C natural. I’m not concerned about the lack of a minor third – the riff simply doesn’t go there, who cares. The first comment on the post explains it better and I agree with this riff being in B phrygian dominant. The use of the F# to G in the harmonized trill-like ending of riff also makes it so.

        What key are you viewing this riff in Nick?

        1. I see the riff as being entrenched in the natural minor 4 5
          2 4 5

          All the notes fit.

          the 5
          4
          form a tritone despite the 4 5 4 part

          Though I believe the second part of the riff puts the whole thing in perspective.

          In reality It could easily be be in B phrygian but the flurry at the second part pushes into A minor which at the time was a very common key.

          I see the harmonization as the band trying to put major thirds wherever they can and then fourths to complement the rest.

          1. Big Timber says:

            It may seem trivial but your interpretation of this riff shits all over my B- understanding of music theory. I’m not searching for a hill to die on but for fuck’s sake brother there is NO TRITONE LMAO. 4 to 5 is a natural fourth. The notes are B and E. 2 and a half full steps. 3 full steps between the root and the high note forms a tritone. It’s concerning and overtly embarassing to have to explain this. All due respect.

          2. Spaten says:

            4 on the g string to 5 on the b string is NOT a tritone and Big Timber already explained why it isn’t. It’s b to e and therefore a perfect fourth. Pick up your guitar, play the two notes together and you’ll realize there’s no strong dissonance there. And 4 on the b string (d#) is also NOT in the a natural minor scale.

            1. yeah fucked up on that one for some reason, will correct the article to reflect that. I should never trust my notes too much.

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