Hipster Youtuber Sam Sutherland suggested in a click bait video uploaded to his This Exists channel earlier this year that black metal is musically the same as the surf rock of the early 60s. This Exists goes on further to suggest that the best metal is heavily influenced by other non-metal musical genres citing such non-metal works as Mastodon‘s Leviathan being influenced by Moby Dick and Kanye West by Pablo Picasso. Sutherland, like many musically ignorant persons, confuses lyrical influence and playing technique with genre, intent, and goal.
Sam Sutherland simplifies music down to three second snippets for millennials like himself whose attention span has been reduced to that of a meth addict or delirious alcoholic through incessant texting, Instagram, Twitter, and non-stop masturbation to ejaculation compilations of internet pornography. Simply as a piece shares a basic rhythm riff doesn’t mean the rest of the music is the same. Black metal doesn’t even share riffs with surf rock generally; what it shares is reverb and riffs composed of single note, tremolo-picked melodies in minor scales. That’s it; playing techniques only.
The riffs in both genres are phrased with entirely different aims: black metal riffs, like most metal ones, are meant to emulate the scores of horror films and other metallic ideals while surf rock aims to emulate the clashing of waves and communicate the thrill of extreme sports experienced in the degenerate California lifestyle to a staid, suburban audience watching actors projected on a screen. Surf rock, when its riffing style is not merely used as a single element in more elaborate works by composers such as John Barry and Philip Glass, structures songs in the standard riff rock format where the riffs set to standard rock ‘n’ roll rhythms established a decade earlier in the fifties form a backdrop for vocal harmonies in poppy verse-chorus-verse songs structures. Black metal riffs in contrast are phrased to flow together into extended melodic narratives over almost metronomic percussion. Black metal never attempts to convey the feeling of trying score with hordes of women in bikinis on spring break.
Tremolo picking has probably been around ever since plucked string instruments were invented thousands of years ago. Julius Caesar was not headbanging to anything resembling Immolation‘s Close to a World Below even though the modes many of compositions are written in contain musical elements that existed then. According to Sam Sutherland’s line of thinking, recording sad sounding ancient Greek hymns meant to be played on a cithara (a multi-string lyre played with a pick) and drenching them in reverb would be Darkthrone.
Mastodon is an incredibly poor but revealing choice of an example of heavy metal given that Mastodon do not play actual metal, they play alternative rock and openly shout out how much they despise metal. Choosing them as an example illustrates that Sutherland is just another hipster millenial with a three second attention span for whom black metal is just a fun weekend alternative to rock. He is another one of the throngs of indie fans who have been attempting to assimilate metal back into the rock culture it left behind decades ago. This Exists is just another televised talking head hoping to reach into the pockets of adventurous rock fans like that Sam Dunn idiot on VH1 saying Cream were heavy metal and crustfund mutant Kim Kelly whining on Vice. Rock masquerading as metal must be shot down, drawn, and quartered to crush the ponzi scheme labels and their shills profiteering off of beer-metallers constantly buying and discarding inferior crypto-indie music searching for the next great metal band.