Thoughts on Composition

Metal music inherited the album concept from pop music. Originally, records could only hold about 3-5 minutes of sound on each side. In the 1940s new techniques allowed each side of a record to hold around 20 minutes of music on each side. Because of these limitations, the ‘single’ became the standard composition in popular music. As LPs became more prominent, the single, played over the radio, was used as the marketing device to sell albums: a couple of catchy singles swimming in a thin grey soup of filler material. Because it is only marginally more difficult and expensive to record and produce a whole album, there are much higher profit margins on LPs than on singles. That a pop album was not a consciously constructed artistic whole is borne by the fact that pop ‘greatest hits’ albums are easy to listen to, straightforward affairs. Consider a greatest hits album from a metal artist… at best it is off-putting and at worst it is a flaccid, confusing affair because all the songs have been removed from their appropriate context.



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Introduction to Power Metal, Part I: Origins and Influences

(Join DMU Legend Johan Pettersson for what may be the most expansive analysis of power metal ever presented in the first of a 3 part series.  Listen to the accompanying suggested listening here)

Of all the subgenres and styles that fall within the metal spectrum (hence excluding unmitigated relapses into rock such as death’n’roll, stoner, nu- and indie metal), power metal most definitely counts as the one that has received the highest amount of scorn and ridicule from critics, fans and outsiders alike. (more…)


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On March 29th, 2014, I was booked on a conceptually enticing extreme metal show in San Antonio, TX.  It was held in honor of Christophe Szpajdel, the infamous “Lord of the Logos” who designed the logos for a good amount of the most relevant black metal bands over the last few decades.  Headlined by Abazagorath, every band on the bill had a Christophe-drawn logo.  Christophe himself was flown across the Atlantic to be present to draw logos for concertgoers on the spot.  But thanks to the abomination that is Facebook, Christophe never made it out of the airport.



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Some bands perfectly encapsulate a sound and an era through the appropriation and development of an existing idea. Van Halen fascinated the mainstream with his take on tapping and his twist on virtuosity which had existed for centuries on various string instruments. Iron maiden took the harmonies from Thin Lizzy and adapted them for their long narrative epics. Suffocation took the slow thrash metal staccato riff and completely changed its use by using them as breakdowns. While those three bands are heavily associated with their respective techniques that have been used by all sorts of bands, Suffocation has spawned multiple subgenres that are all terrible and are completely eluded by the original intention.



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Decimation: Atonality in Death Metal

Never has there been a word in metal as misunderstood as atonal, allowing all kinds of ridiculous claims since most individuals confuse atonality with dissonance and chromatism.

There are two ways to define atonality, one being the complete lack of tonal character and being reduced to noise like some of Kerry King’s solos or the works of Merzbow. The other definition that interests us here is the complete lack of functional harmony. In simpler terms that implies not having the root note that commands a certain melody. Without a root note, the notes in an atonal melody are not connected by scales, modes or chords.



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Death Metal Underground’s wise founder Brett Stevens posted a thoughtful article last weekend about the duality of exterior and interior being.  It describes how in these modern times we’re seeing an illusion of non-conformity that masks the conformity of thought and nature within.  This is an effective tactic of those in power be they media, silicon valley, deep state, or (in the case of metal) record executives and journalists:  get people to look different, but think the same.  This also masterfully articulates why metal is at its lowest creative point in the entire history of its existence: fans and musicians alike have accepted conformity of thought and sound through satisfaction with mere non-conformist aesthetics and culture.  And the only way to escape this rut is to violently rebel against everything we have been conditioned to believe is “metal” and “metal culture.”



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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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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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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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