By message, I am not referring to the sung lyrics, but to what idea or emotion is described or expressed by the sounds. If there is a clear inspiration for the art, then the lyrics tend to be inspired by the same thing as the music, and so they tend to deal with similar subject matter. Nonetheless, when I write "message", I mean what information is communicated by the sounds. The music itself is the message. Note that a message does not need to be infused with human values. It is possible for a message to simply contain data.
When I write morality, I am referring to a kind of value that humans place in certain natural phenomena, not to any kind of intrinsic objective morality.
Universal traits of metal
What, if anything, does all metal have in common?
In this text, I will present the opinion that so far in history, all metal has two things in common:
1: The message that reality is terrifying, but that it can be faced honestly with dignity and valour.
2: Certain compositional techniques used to communicate this.
There are variations of the universal message. Some bands focus mostly on the horrors of reality. Others focus more on the valour with which those horrors can be faced. Some have a balance of both. Within both categories, there is also variation. Horror can take the form of murder, rape, or war. It can also use mythology or fantasy to demonstrate the relatively feeble position of a human in the universe.
On the valourous side, the moral values, if there are any, can differ. Some bands emphasize fighting for a just cause, while others are drawn to describing the act of fighting bravely itself. Conflict, however, is always recognized as inevitable, or even necessary. From the masculine "we can fix this" attitude of speed metal, to the cheesy orcs and elves of power metal, to the pagan mythology of folk metal and some black metal, It is presented as a valid solution to many problems.
No matter what mixture of ingredients is used, the result will always have certain traits.
It will have honesty; because no matter how terrifying or disgusting reality is, it is viewed as it is rather than diluted by self deception.
It will be optimistic; not in the sense of expecting pleasant outcomes, but in the sense of seeing the beautiful in the ugly, the good in the evil, and the value in darkness.
It will have valour; Because it does not whine about reality, nor attempt to deny it. It accepts the inevitability of conflict and death with dignity, and if it finds parts of reality unacceptable, it struggles to change them. It can be a call to action, but never a lullaby.
It may be possible to say what metal says in a different way. Would such music be a metal sub genre, because it says the same things as metal, or would it be some other music genre, because it speaks differently?
In either case, metal in its current and past forms has its particular methods.
In summary, metal uses melodic passages, riffs, which repeat. A lot of the nuance comes from how the music progresses. What happened in the past determines the meaning of the present. For riffs, this can mean how many times one was repeated before a different one took over. It can also mean if the riff mutated, while still being recognizably related. It can also mean that harmony and rhythm, which perform important but more supportive functions, change around the riff - or any combination of the above.
Post Scriptum to DeathMetal.Org
This is intended as an easy to understand explanation of metal. It is directed at outsiders and at uninitiated potential "Hessians". I want feedback and constructive criticism on this text.