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Understanding Metal Composition

Understanding Metal Composition
October 07, 2011, 11:04:15 PM
Firstly, Infestor's Chamber of Reunion from the album To the Depths... In Degradation is the song that was used to gauge how one can better understand how a seemingly harsh wall of sound, is actually high art in the truest sense.  Secondly, emotion, experience, and realization are terms that have been chosen to denote portions of the track, arbitrary really, but I don't know much about music terminology (I'd love for an expert to weigh in).  Lastly, for reference:

                                                                                                                               http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYvl27iZDmQ&feature=related

Ok, so here is my take, and of course I would love your thoughts.

Initially, suspira intro aside, an emotion is introduced (0:29 -1:08), then the experience which invoked said emotion (1:08 - 2:31).  After the introductions, the emotion is explored (2:31 - 3:33), then a realization occurs (3:33 - 3:58) followed by a reference to the experience (3:58 - 4:25).  This piece could end here really, making it lower grade metal, but it doesn't, which is why it's high art.  The emotion fights the realization (4:25 - 5:35), then succumbs to a full realization (5:35 - 6:00) and subsequently falls into congruence with this full realization (6:00 - end).

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 08, 2011, 11:44:04 PM
Great topic.  I hope more musically skilled people would add to this quality discussion instead of other lesser important topics we've seen here lately...

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 10, 2011, 04:33:15 AM
You bring up some interesting points:

In Degradation is the song that was used to gauge how one can better understand how a seemingly harsh wall of sound, is actually high art in the truest sense.

Bingo. In music, there are processes, and there are objects.

 Let's start with objects. There are intervals between pitches, like the perfect fifth and the major third, that are aurally pleasing because they embody simple mathematical ratios, and are derived directly from naturally occurring acoustical overtones that we experience every day. "Dissonant" intervals, like the tritone, are less frequently encountered, and their derivation is more complex, making them thus inherently less "pleasing" or if you prefer, less "stable".

However, dissonant sounds can still be arranged in a way that is intellectually stimulating, in a process that is stimulating. This is why one can derive as much enjoyment from Beethoven as from Averse Sefira, even though one uses a greater percentage of dissonant sounds in its syntax. The lesson here is that the syntax of music is at least as important as the vocabulary of objects it is created from. The evidence for this purely experiential, but if you need convincing, look at how vastly different composers like Bartok are from composers like Mozart in terms of the vocabulary of musical objects they choose to use, and yet both are included in the western canon, and are performed and enjoyed by similar demographics.

Consider also how many metalheads will profess, most likely genuinely, enjoyment of Beethoven, and in the same breath praise a band like Suffocation. One uses far more dissonant musical objects, and thus their surface aesthetic is quite different, and yet both are appreciated by the same minds. This is because the syntaxes of both the music of Beethoven and of Suffocation, their processes, are actually quite similar.

Once this distinction between object and process is understood, it's in fact easy to apprehend how "a seemingly harsh wall of sound, is actually high art". The harsh wall of sound you allude to results from the music being made from dissonant objects, and its function as high-art results from the processes that are defined by the arrangement of those objects. The song is in fact both these things; dissonant and beautiful.

This relates to an interpretation of the idea of "pattern-language" that used to exist as a hero-worship page for Christopher Alexander on the old ANUS site. It described how one idea of how the world actually functions is that instead of saying that "beauty" only exists when certain static criteria are met, we say instead that there is a language of beauty, accordingly within which many things, indeed anything can be expressed.

We might then say that metal music uses the language of beauty to describe darkness, which can be directly related to the distinction we were just discussing between object and process; the processes of metal are beautiful, while its objects are ugly. The true innovation in metal from this standpoint then is the ability to address darkness in creatively beautiful ways.

Of course metal was not the first to do this; it's helpful to remember that we have predecessors. John Milton, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Hieronymus Bosch etc. all at one point in their lives could be said to have engaged with the above distinction in their own way. What still puzzles me is why this oppositional or adversarial nature of aesthetics, one that implicitly engages with opposites like light and dark, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness etc., is so enduring when most developed philosophies in Western nations point to this distinction being a convenient fiction, usually most convenient for the Christian church, for whom it served the purpose of conquering and focusing an entire continent of pagans. Why do our artists persist in using it, and yet our philosophers and scientists do not? Metaphor of course has great control over the passions, but if the distinction between good and evil is untrue, or at the least unrealistic, then are we justified to use it at all, let alone in art? How can we read "Beyond Good and Evil" and then listen to any occult or religiously themed music and keep a straight face?

Thanks to anyone who gets or reads this.

Initially, suspira intro aside, an emotion is introduced (0:29 -1:08), then the experience which invoked said emotion (1:08 - 2:31).  After the introductions, the emotion is explored (2:31 - 3:33), then a realization occurs (3:33 - 3:58) followed by a reference to the experience (3:58 - 4:25).  This piece could end here really, making it lower grade metal, but it doesn't, which is why it's high art.  The emotion fights the realization (4:25 - 5:35), then succumbs to a full realization (5:35 - 6:00) and subsequently falls into congruence with this full realization (6:00 - end).

This is great! A few things:

-You're using vernacular vocabulary to describe music; it's better to use terminology specific to music for analysis in the initial stages, to help with specificity. Does the music get louder or softer? Faster or slower? Of course you can take this as far as you need to in complexity to describe what you think is important about the music and how it communicates its experience, but these are just starting points. Don't use a terminology list though; the best way to internalize musical terms is to become a musician of some kind.

I should also mention however that, provided you've mastered musical theoretical terminology (and that is an ESSENTIAL prerequisite for the license I'm about to describe), you will probably reach a point in any analysis where conventional musical terms no longer serve you; in these cases you may be forced to invent or commandeer new terminology, and you should not be afraid to do it. If it's a crescendo, call it one, but if truly no word exists for what you hear, then use one that seems most appropriate to you.

-When I listen, I can identify clearly every section you've described, but as far as I can tell you mainly address riff structure and texture. What about the grammatically deranged and visually surreal lyrics? How do they interact with and overlap the divisions you've described? They clearly change from beginning to end, and articulate different things along the way also. Do they create their own unique sub-structure?

What about the details of vocal delivery? Do they enforce the patterns you've uncovered, or create new ones, or both?

 And finally, that intro! It's not random, and you shouldn't throw it away so hastily in your analysis. Doesn't he mention a doorway as the riff fades in? Does he not also mention that the living death is behind that doorway? Seems pretty significant to the meaning of the song.

All this being said, I'm impressed by and in general agreement with how you've parsed the riffs in this song, although I would have used different labels for the sections.

For example, for the slow diatonic music with keyboards you generally favor the term "emotion", while for the more chromatic pitch content without keyboards you use the terms "realization" or "experience". You even pick up on some fairly subtle riff relationships, like between the sections from 3:33-3:58 and 3:58-4:25, by designating one as a reference to the other. What could be interesting to explore, if you're interested in these things, is what gave you the impression of this relation. There must be a reason your ear, and mine also, hears a relationship between these two riffs. I think here it has to do with the keyboard melody: the contour of the melody, if not the exact pitches, is very similar between the two sections.

All in all, I enjoyed your analysis, and like the best ones, it helped me to understand the music myself, and provided fertile ground for further exploration.

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 10, 2011, 09:05:06 PM
In music, there are processes, and there are objects.

 Let's start with objects. There are intervals between pitches, like the perfect fifth and the major third, that are aurally pleasing because they embody simple mathematical ratios, and are derived directly from naturally occurring acoustical overtones that we experience every day. "Dissonant" intervals, like the tritone, are less frequently encountered, and their derivation is more complex, making them thus inherently less "pleasing" or if you prefer, less "stable".

I like this division. Jazz is pure objects; metal is nearly pure process, in that the objects have been relegated to their absolute minimum requirement.

What makes a death metal song is the connection between riffs, not necessarily the riffs themselves. Each one is like a dancer on a stage, and together their movements tell a story.

And then there's the new Immolation, which is like a fat woman lunging for a twinkie.

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 11, 2011, 12:56:04 AM
Thanks for the response!

Quote
The lesson here is that the syntax of music is at least as important as the vocabulary of objects it is created from.

could we even go one step farther and say it's necessarilly greater in importance?  If, as you've pointed out, there is a language of beauty, in order to communicate this beauty to the fullest extent, the language must be used correctly, or at best it becomes garbled and we lose out on some of the intent, and at worst it becomes lowest common denominator riff salad.

Quote
This relates to an interpretation of the idea of "pattern-language" that used to exist as a hero-worship page for Christopher Alexander on the old ANUS site. It described how one idea of how the world actually functions is that instead of saying that "beauty" only exists when certain static criteria are met, we say instead that there is a language of beauty, accordingly within which many things, indeed anything can be expressed.

We might then say that metal music uses the language of beauty to describe darkness, which can be directly related to the distinction we were just discussing between object and process; the processes of metal are beautiful, while its objects are ugly. The true innovation in metal from this standpoint then is the ability to address darkness in creatively beautiful ways.

This is wonderful, I searched for the page you mentioned with no luck, does it still exist or is it lost in the anus?  Either way, it could be that instead of beauty, which is tied inherently to our picture of the world, that metal and other high art communicates reality in its pure form.  An example:  Most would probably view a pack of wolves or orcas tearing apart a calf as "dark" or "violent", but this is a reality of life, and is neither.. if anything it would be beautiful because it fits into the process of life.  Metal (death and black in particular) seems to communicate this spirit, or as it has been put before "smashes pleasent illusions", illusions like death being a horrible thing.  Reality is beauty as I see it.

Quote
What still puzzles me is why this oppositional or adversarial nature of aesthetics, one that implicitly engages with opposites like light and dark, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness etc., is so enduring when most developed philosophies in Western nations point to this distinction being a convenient fiction, usually most convenient for the Christian church, for whom it served the purpose of conquering and focusing an entire continent of pagans. Why do our artists persist in using it, and yet our philosophers and scientists do not? Metaphor of course has great control over the passions, but if the distinction between good and evil is untrue, or at the least unrealistic, then are we justified to use it at all, let alone in art? How can we read "Beyond Good and Evil" and then listen to any occult or religiously themed music and keep a straight face?

High art transcends, or if you will, goes beyond any good and evil the composer may have attempted to ascribe to it, even if our picture has us label it light or dark.  If the correct process is in place, it mirrors reality.  As humans, we use emotion and experience as ways (our only way really) to interact, understand, identify, and appreciate music.  But, as you've said above, it's all math and ratios and so should be universal.  Working in the electronic field, I've come to understand sound as nothing but frequencies and magnitudes which we translate a specific way through our human system.  I would posit, that if the math in the composition is correct, any intelligent being could make the distinction that Incantation owns slipknot on every level, and that ludwig van stands head and shoulders above the crowd.

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 11, 2011, 01:19:56 AM
Quote
For example, for the slow diatonic music with keyboards you generally favor the term "emotion", while for the more chromatic pitch content without keyboards you use the terms "realization" or "experience". You even pick up on some fairly subtle riff relationships, like between the sections from 3:33-3:58 and 3:58-4:25, by designating one as a reference to the other. What could be interesting to explore, if you're interested in these things, is what gave you the impression of this relation. There must be a reason your ear, and mine also, hears a relationship between these two riffs. I think here it has to do with the keyboard melody: the contour of the melody, if not the exact pitches, is very similar between the two sections.

I'll attempt to expound on my analysis, focusing on the later part of the song, after the object introductions, and as the objects are being fit into the process and subsequently work together.

at (4:25 - 5:35), where emotion fighting realization was used, the emotions (as was pointed out in the OP, I don't know the proper terminology) ride on top of an aspect of the realization, then, finally the realization wins out at (5:35 - 6:00), then both of these objects mirrior each other  (6:00 - end).

Also, if it seemed that the intro and the lyrics were being over looked, that was not the intent, the focus was simply narrowed to make it more managable.  I looked up the lyrics and they seem to fit in the general flow of the music, someone fights the realization that only death is real, or maybe comes to fully realize that death is release from the bonds of existance and accepts that fact with open arms.

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 11, 2011, 03:36:21 PM

High art transcends, or if you will, goes beyond any good and evil the composer may have attempted to ascribe to it, even if our picture has us label it light or dark.

I completely agree, I was about to criticise your original post and point out how describing something as good/evil, beautiful/ugly is such a hedonistic, superficial and completely subjective.


Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 12, 2011, 03:23:12 AM
Also, if it seemed that the intro and the lyrics were being over looked, that was not the intent, the focus was simply narrowed to make it more managable.  I looked up the lyrics and they seem to fit in the general flow of the music, someone fights the realization that only death is real, or maybe comes to fully realize that death is release from the bonds of existance and accepts that fact with open arms.

I sometimes think that indecipherable vocals allow for a more direct analysis of the musical syntax (to use Goluf's term). Lyrics often serve a different role in the narrative process and can often be distracting if they become the primary object of focus.

Though the music and the lyrics often complement each other thematically, it is also possible that they may be in combat with each other in the same manner you suggested as "the emotion fighting the realization".

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 13, 2011, 02:20:17 AM
High art transcends, or if you will, goes beyond any good and evil the composer may have attempted to ascribe to it, even if our picture has us label it light or dark.
I was reading the Perennial Philosophy today. Huxley touched on this briefly in the chapter on grace. When an artist receive grace, or inspiration, from the Divine Reality they belong to one of two main classes: love, light, and bliss, or dark, awe-inspiring power. It depends on the competency of the artist as to whether this inspiration is adequately channeled into high art. (Hence, some art may be inspired but still crappy.)

Perhaps he was being unclear, but I think he's wrong implying there are two separate types of inspiration. It doesn't come in black or white; it is neutral, and I believe it is up to the artist  and his perception to channel his inspiration into art.

He also mentions that primitive minds are more receptive to the darker aspect of Logos. If only he could have lived long enough to hear death metal :P


Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 14, 2011, 12:15:32 AM
Quote
I sometimes think that indecipherable vocals allow for a more direct analysis of the musical syntax (to use Goluf's term). Lyrics often serve a different role in the narrative process and can often be distracting if they become the primary object of focus.

Though the music and the lyrics often complement each other thematically, it is also possible that they may be in combat with each other in the same manner you suggested as "the emotion fighting the realization".

Interesting points, lets put them to use.

Room of reunion... Join with the departed,
Souls trapped in a timeless sanctuary of darkness.
... Witness the secret places which shall not be precieved by man.
Talisman strung in remebrance of the dead,
Resurrect visions kept in capsules of existence.
Perception enhanced by smoke and hypnosis,
Subconcious prayers for entreaty.
... Come to call, reappear in form!
Transcending through the boundaries of ancient knowledge.
... Notice the trancient beings
Which thrive on your fear,
Their meager existence I have already experienced
... Moving closer to the core,
I engulf in luminescence,
Aquired from this cerulean consumption,
The resting place of emptiness...
Where blackness robs the spirit
Chamber of reunion
... I may not return to this chamber.
From the blood, we are born of sadness...
But thy celestial spirits are breathed into me,
So I may never know.

What jumps out at me is 1:52, a notable change in the "roar" of the main vocalist into more of a defeated higher pitch, and a second shrieking set ov vocals which sound frantic or desperate.  This fits the lyrics, and the melancholy lead guitar lick, which at this point, along with the rest of the instrumentation, is subdued and whistful sounding.  "Perception enhanced by smoke and hypnosis, Subconcious prayers for entreaty."  In an attempt to be closer to heaven, we retreat inward with symbols of salvation and importance, drugs, and other things, and all the while our subconcious longs for very simple things, things lost or obscured by our flawed view.

Also, at 6:15 it hard to make out what's being said, but I would guess it's "From the blood, we are born of sadness... But thy celestial spirits are breathed into me, So I may never know." as it fades out, after death, all of your sadness, joy, your whole experience, are nothing.  But the world does not end when you end, we see that with every body thrown in the ground or burned on the pyre, so act accordingly.


Both those examples I would say compliment the music.

At 2:40 I would say the mixture between the roar and shriek, and that they sound rushed, are almost at odds with the riff, which I find interesting because right afterwards it goes into the chunky riff, almost like loosing focus a bit, then narrowing that focus to a very fine point and hashing it out, before franticly trying to find it again.


Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 15, 2011, 08:24:37 AM
While I like your descriptions and agree with them on some level,  you'll need to do a lot more to convince that this song is even better than mediocre, let alone "high art," a term I'd reserve for something like Therion's The Way if we're talking metal (standard example I know, but standard for a reason).

Some of the relations you see/make between ideas seem coincidental, for example, and even if they (the relations) exist, how do they make this song any good compared to what better bands did?

This is not an attack but some issues.

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 15, 2011, 02:47:23 PM
Heh, I am a blundering novice when it comes to music theory, so the "alot more" would just turn into a cluster fuck.  I'm sure I look dumb enough already making up my own words to describe parts of the song, and equating it to some grand life lesson.  I find great meaning in many death metal bands, they seem to capture some of the old feral spirit of the world, but I suppose that doesn't necessarilly make it high art.

Infester is pretty unique, they may have taken some queues from earlier acts, but I am of the opinion that they are innovators in the death metal scene.  What are some bands that you would consider better than Infester?

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 15, 2011, 07:16:08 PM
I find great meaning in many death metal bands, they seem to capture some of the old feral spirit of the world, but I suppose that doesn't necessarilly make it high art.

Me too, and I think these bands best exemplify what you describe, especially the top 10 or so : http://www.anus.com/metal/about/best_of/

Quote
Infester is pretty unique, they may have taken some queues from earlier acts, but I am of the opinion that they are innovators in the death metal scene.  What are some bands that you would consider better than Infester?

Listened to some more of them on youtube, they seem like a competent mix of Incantation and Suffocation in style, but I'm still not convinced. Maybe you can submit a review to the DLA/deathmetal.org, put your ass on the line!

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 15, 2011, 09:54:34 PM
http://www.anus.com/metal/infester/

http://www.anus.com/metal/hall/index.php/topic,357.0.html

For your consideration, your ears will end up being what convinces you one way or the other, ONLY BANDS LISTED IN THE DLA ARE REAL!

Re: Understanding Metal Composition
October 15, 2011, 10:11:17 PM
Who looks dumb now? Thanks.