Yes, as I think about it more I think my OP could be revised to say that the approach to creating metal albums needs to completely get rid of the "collection of songs" mentality, which usually involves repeating the same basic idea multiple times, and needs to move towards creating a single medium - large scale work with related parts.
The point you make about enjoying certain albums even though their overall structure is lacking is a significant one. Since I enjoy the aesthetic and general mood of many metal bands, it's easy to be less critical than I should be. For example, I have been listening to Gorguts' Obscura over the past few days with a view to creating string quartet arrangements for some of the tracks. Since all of the songs are excellent in their own right and there is a sense of structure binding the whole album together, I had never really thought to criticize this work, however, if I was being truly objective I would have to say that probably at least 4 of the 12 tracks are not necessary and in fact actually impede the listener from experiencing the work as a unified whole. This is a good example since in this case there is an attempt being made to create an album as a single work, however this process is still impeded by the compulsion to repeat ideas too much by including multiple tracks that are very similar.
I think it is hard for real metalheads to be as critical as they should be since our appreciation for the genre can easily blind us to its flaws. Some of my friends with backgrounds in classical music whom I have introduced to metal tend to be much more critical of its compositional weaknesses than I am even though they recognise its superiority to most popular music.
It would be hard for metal to break out of the very inward-looking (or as some might say narrow-minded
) view of itself and what it likes as historically this is where it has excelled.
Melody is hidden away in riffs that are not only repetitious and 'texturally' ambiguous (timbre) but are also mostly melodically unconventional. Creating compositionally solid songs is hard on the spur of the moment, and it is often that sense of ‘spur of the moment’ that makes it really magical. The composer is also the performer.
Having said that I don’t think it can’t be done. It’s just that it’s a difficult trade-off and most bands that have attempted it tripped head first into faggotry. Gorguts’ Obscura
is probably as close as one could get to a synergy of audial thunder in a refined composition (but then again, Luc is a trained composer). The one thing it kind of does lack however is the black metal sense of album structure. Compare Obscura
to Vikingligr Veldi
, De Mysteriis
, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
or Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism
and it still sonds like a collection of songs.
I think about this a lot.
Just today I was listening to Massacre's From Beyond and thinking it sounds really cool, but it's really done after the 6th track. And if it weren't for the interlude "The Chamber of Ages", it would be done by the 4th track.
In this respect I'd say Deicide almost nailed it perfectly on Legion. I would say the same of Massacra's Final Holocaust. The latter would be perfect 2 or 3 songs down, in my opinion.
I think this is one of the reasons why I am so into Zealotry's The Charnel Expanse. It is only the last track that seems to be overextended. But most of the album feels necessary.
The question is how to expand on something that is short and sweet without losing that vital power. Once again this is where building album over song structure is really put to good use. As was prevalent with the Norwegian bands, a sense of journey communicated over the album was more important than individual songs. Start off with some sort of call to arms, add to it various layers of dissolution and then neatly thread everything back together with a long drawn-out epic final track. I think it all started with Bathory’s Blood, Fire, Death
; as it happens, Quorthon was heavily influenced by Wagner at the time.