Classical and Pop Metal – Part 2 (Inadequacy of Existing Definitions)

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Article by David Rosales, 2nd installment of a 7 part series; read the first part here

Most people with no formal training regard pop as a subset of the many kinds of music genres they can possibly listen to that are not considered “classical”. This implies a delimited genre that is easy to listen to, particularly repetitive, and with a strong emphasis on catchy choruses that form the whole of the content. It’s considered superficial even by those who profess to love it, who do so in a tongue-in-cheek manner. It’s all about the fun, they say. Classical music actually has two definitions, but the popular take on it is that it’s boring and long-winded music written and performed by some old men and nerds at school.

Modern academia unofficially defines “popular music” simply as “everything that is not what we do”. Sadly, they impress upon this broader group the same restrictions that non-academics would on their particular “pop” genre. It is obvious to anyone who explores so-called popular music beyond The Beatles or Michael Jackson that this definition is more of a belligerent and dismissive gesture than a sincere attempt at distinguishing what is a much richer well of music. In short, it is an indirect way to claim the irrelevance of anything that is not academic music.

When confronted with this reality, either through accidental exposition (such as a music teacher dealing with the musical tastes of a classroom with varied musical backgrounds) or as a result of a casual debate, it is not uncommon to see academics jump through hoops to justify an out of hand prejudice or a forced humanist humility that will accept the most vulgar and banal musics as a valid expression of the soul. In either case, real discernment is sorely missing. Also, that the musical academic establishment hilariously wants to keep calling itself “classical tradition” when they have abandoned all but the most materialistic of the original precepts is a sign of their arbitrary and lazy attitude towards music that is not spoon-fed to them (oddly, a reflection of the same attitude of most mundane popular music listeners).

When we accept that music goes beyond mere forms, beyond parts and consists not only of the instruments, or the notes, or the intentions but is truly an entity completely apart born from these elements, we tacitly acknowledge that the terms used to describe genres most also go beyond the surface and take into account holistic considerations. For this, both current uses of the terms “popular” and “classical” music are not only unsuitable, but defined unevenly. While pop music is defined in very narrow and simplistic terms, classical music is considered this vast and unrestricted attitude that is only tied together “objectively” through the most superficial and politically-motivated arguments.

Those with a serious background in academic music would readily accept that correct distinctions have to lie at a metaphysical level, even though we must necessarily judge them through concrete notes and forms. It is here that the average person becomes bewildered, at a loss since he is no longer able to make universal egalitarian statements. The key to untangling this moral conundrum is to be truly scientific about the matter and take into account the context at several different levels, in which music develops. The distinction between the broad groups distinguished through our new “classical” and “pop” (to avoid using the noun) terms take on a much more abstract though still nebulous character.

That it is abstract does not mean that it cannot be decided or that concrete music analysis cannot be applied. It simply means that strong contextualization is a must, and that the fact that art can never be objective, because the whole of the human experience is itself necessarily subjective. This in no moment means that standards should be lowered, but that standards should be understood not at a superficial level of complexity, but in the interplay between intention and realization in proper context. For this, the concepts of natural and artificial, inner and outer, as well as transcendence need be discussed and understood.

14 thoughts on “Classical and Pop Metal – Part 2 (Inadequacy of Existing Definitions)”

  1. Daniel Maarat says:

    Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation do not even write the same song forms. There are entire genres that are misnomers too like “melodic death metal” where very few bands actually play death metal outside of early At the Gates and Intestine Baalism which you could argue don’t count. Amon Amarth are NWOBHM with some black metal riffing and drumming. Dissection is Judas Priest with Emperor-style riffs including the speed metal songs and power ballads.

  2. Demonseed says:

    The Beatles simple song structure is the primary uniting trait of pop. Classical is flowing motifs instead of riffs. Motifs which change key, phrasing, or mode as they reappear.
    What should melodic death metal properly be referred to ? I could see calling them just metal or maybe consider lumping it in thrash because thrash was usually melodic. Disincarnate seems like you could safely say its thrash or metal. The problem with that is the vocals and the grinding differentiates itself from thrash . maybe grind-thrash would be accurate?

    and do Grave Suffocation and Immolation still count as classic DM? It seems like Grave You Will Never See Heaven has pop-like song structure. Incantation and Immolation and bands where I don’t noticeably hear the same riff repeat as much strike me as closer to classical music. I am real bad at keeping up with modern genre connotations though so I well could be misguided.

  3. Nathan Metric says:

    Completely disagree with David on this one.

    “Pop music” is music that asserts the primacy of the individual. Self-expression over telling the truth.
    Metal and classical music is about trying to present reality. The difference being the strategies employed.

    1. David Rosales says:

      You lost the point completely.
      You see, academicians officially lump metal inside “popular music”.

      Metal is not pop music only in the eyes of laymen. But those same layment don’t have a clear idea of what
      “classical” is either.

      This is what we are addressing here.

      1. vOddy says:

        This may be the most ridiculous false dichotomy that I have ever heard of: dividing music in to two categories; popular and classical.

        What a joke.

        I take it Burzum belongs in the same category as Kanye West, then?
        which belongs in the same category as 1000 year old folk music?

        Definitions should be useful, descriptive, and precise. Not arbitrary. This is like Christianity and islam defining every other religion as “pagan”, when they are so different from each other. But the one thing that all of them have in common is that they are not Christianity, and that is all that matters to the Christians. Such arrogance.

        Black metal is not popular. Jazz is not popular. Medieval folk music is not popular. And most importantly, they are structurally and romantically different from each other. Different enough to warrant having their own categories.

        Also, the point about accepting any kind of banal and shitty music as some elegant expression of the soul is a good one. I’ve observed the same thing among academic musicians.

      2. Life Afirming Existentialist says:

        Extremely insightful! Thank you for the post Mr. Rosales, I learned quite a bit from this article!

        Unfortunately, those believe Mr. Stevens but do not understand him will only be able to parrot him in stead of recognizing how ideology and propaganda blinds them from seeing reality.

        I look forward to learning how to better analyze and find symbolism within the context of the music that I suspect you will teach in your later articles. For example, Beethoven put context in his 3rd Symphony through subtlety by conveying that Napoleon would lead his army into certain doom. Those who have listened to that composition know what I am talking about.

        1. Life Afirming Existentialist says:

          Clarification

          those *who believe
          *insert here

          *instead
          instead of in stead

  4. Demonseed says:

    Ok. The kid gloves are off . The existing definitions are fine . The problem is the author is a sophist. This article is pointless and leads to nothing . Song structure determines the difference between the two genres. This article should be about three sentences long if it were written correctly. There is not enough substance to even justify this column. That’s what happens when you try and over-analyze everything with this post-modern b.s. outlook. Start supporting actual underground bands instead of writing shitty columns full of sophistry. Frankly I think they should fire you and get someone who knows what the hell they are talking about to write for your site.

    1. Cool, then, tell me, what is popular music in terms of form?
      What is classical in terms of form?

      The existing definitions do not address that, but you and I can come up with a form based definition from experience.

      I’m not a sophist, I despise sophistry. However, it might look like empty talk if you don’t understand. You can just ask questions instead of being angry, Demonseed.

      1. Nathan Metric says:

        You’re assuming there are only two categories. Popular music and classical. This is incorrect. You ought to have this higher category called “modern music” that includes both pop music and metal. Modern music being the rejection of the standards of classical music.

        Modern music: music that deals with a small snapshot of experience. This results in a consistent and sometimes exaggerated mood.
        Classical music: music that tries to portray experience on a grander scale. This results in a dynamic and more subdued mood called “long-winded” by those that don’t understand it.

        Pop music: modern music that asserts the primacy of the individual.
        Metal music: a modern post-rock/post-punk style of music that asserts reality transcending the individual.

        1. vOddy says:

          “Modern music: music that deals with a small snapshot of experience. This results in a consistent and sometimes exaggerated mood.
          Classical music: music that tries to portray experience on a grander scale. This results in a dynamic and more subdued mood called “long-winded” by those that don’t understand it.”

          This seems like plausible and reasonable analysis to me. An interesting post. Thanks.

        2. David Rosales says:

          No, I don’t assume that.
          People from the academic world do assume that. :)
          That’s where I part from, and I try to take the terms to make a more useful and detailed distinction.

    2. OliveFox says:

      Just because they don’t spit on the cock of every shit-dick with a demo and a half-hearted grasp on their hatred for society doesn’t mean DMU doesn’t support the underground you silly goose.

  5. Demonseed says:

    Get some competent people in there pronto.

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