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Can metal music be subtle?

Nile577

Can metal music be subtle?
February 24, 2009, 03:54:00 PM
A frequent criticism of death, black and doom metal music is that it only expresses anger, morbidity, hatred and misanthropy.

Classical music can be all of the above, and yet in turn subtle, gentle, eirenic, reflective, lighthearted and happy.

Is it possible for metal to be these things, and if not, is it a limited art form?

I should note that I don't mean to imply that metal music doesn't have a certain "transcendental" joy to it, and I should stress that by "subtle" I do not mean something that is "clever" or self-referential.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
February 24, 2009, 04:44:12 PM
in my experience that criticism is only levied by people when they listen to how the music 'sounds' and not what it actually is. most, at least in Western societies, are accustomed to music made for mass appeal - make the same song 500 times but give it different vocalists/sound effects/instrumentation each time, so it feels different to a casual listener by pandering to culturally-derived impressions of what happiness, sadness, and novelty 'sound' like.

metal's all about removing the aesthetic novelty to force the listener into paying attention to the music's construction - it all 'sounds' the same but the compositions are drastically different. i personally find it useful, when talking about this to someone who doesn't listen to metal, to try to imagine the songs being played with a very basic instrumentation(piano, for example, or MIDI). Blessed Are the Sick is one of the most reflective albums i can recall ever hearing.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
February 24, 2009, 05:46:26 PM
in my experience that criticism is only levied by people when they listen to how the music 'sounds' and not what it actually is. most, at least in Western societies, are accustomed to music made for mass appeal - make the same song 500 times but give it different vocalists/sound effects/instrumentation each time, so it feels different to a casual listener by pandering to culturally-derived impressions of what happiness, sadness, and novelty 'sound' like.

metal's all about removing the aesthetic novelty to force the listener into paying attention to the music's construction - it all 'sounds' the same but the compositions are drastically different. i personally find it useful, when talking about this to someone who doesn't listen to metal, to try to imagine the songs being played with a very basic instrumentation(piano, for example, or MIDI). Blessed Are the Sick is one of the most reflective albums i can recall ever hearing.

Agreed on all counts.  Many metal pieces when played using different instrumentation have helped me show people the links between metal and classical for example.  A friend of mine once noted how "Non Divine" by At The Gates played on a piano sounds rather like a Romantic-era piano piece, and noted on how if some of the melodies in "Phobophile" by Cryptopsy were played on piano, they sound like Dead Can Dance.  Of course, instrumentation does not change the essence of the melody in either case, which is the point here.

Of course, past the melodies of the songs, if the overall structure was paid more attention to, then the neo-classical origins of the genre would be much more evident.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
February 25, 2009, 02:11:41 PM
Death metal and black metal are inherently subtle, because they're made up of narrative compositions. Riff A meets Riff B meets Riff C, and suddenly the A->B transition makes sense.

Rock music isn't subtle. Like the pentatonic scale, it's broad colors and binary dynamics. Now I'm happy/Now I'm sad/If I were punk/I'd be mad.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
February 26, 2009, 02:13:10 PM
Metal is special in that there are those that are subtle, and those that are not.

Usually, the latter is littered with childish playing, characterized by breakneck speed riffing, and with no originality or quality of music.

Subtlety is key for many artists. Sometimes, using this subtlety, they unleash "the furious metal monster that eternally gnaws on human flesh" better than any band like the br00tal Cannibal Kiwi (Corpse).

In terms of subtlety, often there are bands that a have a progressive finesse which is commendable. Personally, Death's Human comes to mind. Both the lyrical content and musical quality are stellar, and this is a prime example of what I think is subtlety as opposed to their later, overrated works.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 01, 2009, 02:42:33 PM
i personally find it useful, when talking about this to someone who doesn't listen to metal, to try to imagine the songs being played with a very basic instrumentation(piano, for example, or MIDI). Blessed Are the Sick is one of the most reflective albums i can recall ever hearing.

Actually, aside from technical death metal and some power metal I find metal to be one of the most unrewarding genres when it comes to this approach. I love listening to classical music in the fashion that you described, in fact, my introduction to Liszt was through some MIDIs on a geocities page, but Metal riffs I find to be very compositionally simple and stripping away the aesthetic of heaviness and chunky guitars, you end up with a whole lot of nothing.

Thrash metal reduces itself pretty interestingly to "morse code music" (I actually love that analogy used on this site, thrash metal riffs are like micro-melodies embedded in a framework of percussive palm-muted chugs) but I can't imagine anything more boring than a black metal song rendered as you described; with tabbing software like PowerTab or GutiarPro you can see the results pretty easily. Personally, for me this would work for some songs that are more varied melodically like Monstrosity's Burden of Evil, but not the majority of metal, even "classic" death and black metal bands.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 02, 2009, 02:15:52 PM
if compared to classical works presented in the same method, of course metal will seem drab; everything will. but to say it's one of the MOST structurally unrewarding genres is just blind - where is this abundance of genres that display more compositional focus? post-rock? trip-hop? blues? i don't have any education in musical theory but even i can understand the compositions on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Far Away from the Sun, Advent Parallax, Final Holocaust, Nespithe, and Obscura utterly shatter anything attempted by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Massive Attack, or robert johnson(and i enjoy all three of these). even exceedingly monotonous compositions such as Transylvanian Hunger and Forest Poetry are that way for a reason, and when taken as a whole these albums reveal a lot more conceptual complexity than any other genre i can think of aside from the classical ones and an exceptional minority of electronic ones.  the riffs often ARE simple, but what difference does that make? Beethoven's fifth is entirely built around a single four-note theme that is exceedingly simple, but the work in its entirety is one of the most deservedly well-known and admired things to emerge from humanity's exploration of music.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 02, 2009, 03:40:54 PM
if compared to classical works presented in the same method, of course metal will seem drab; everything will. but to say it's one of the MOST structurally unrewarding genres is just blind - where is this abundance of genres that display more compositional focus? post-rock? trip-hop? blues? i don't have any education in musical theory but even i can understand the compositions on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Far Away from the Sun, Advent Parallax, Final Holocaust, Nespithe, and Obscura utterly shatter anything attempted by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Massive Attack, or robert johnson(and i enjoy all three of these). even exceedingly monotonous compositions such as Transylvanian Hunger and Forest Poetry are that way for a reason, and when taken as a whole these albums reveal a lot more conceptual complexity than any other genre i can think of aside from the classical ones and an exceptional minority of electronic ones.  the riffs often ARE simple, but what difference does that make? Beethoven's fifth is entirely built around a single four-note theme that is exceedingly simple, but the work in its entirety is one of the most deservedly well-known and admired things to emerge from humanity's exploration of music.

I agree very much, the individual melodies are components of a greater whole, and as such it is more important as to how they interact with each other in constructing that greater whole.  The lasting value of the melody is gained in it's relation to others over the course of a composition, as even the most beautiful, complex melody will fail to be anything special if it is simply droned over and over again repetitively.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 03, 2009, 02:10:07 PM
 "To the Depths... In Degradation", "Far Away From The Sun", and "Nespithe" are all wonderful examples of the hidden subtleties of metal, though there are many more obvious choices.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 11, 2009, 01:19:57 AM
"To the Depths... In Degradation", "Far Away From The Sun", and "Nespithe" are all wonderful examples of the hidden subtleties of metal, though there are many more obvious choices.


I was just about to give those examples myself :)). some time ago i used to watch carefully peoples reaction to metal and inquire about the "finesse" and "nuance" of that or this part of a song: almost every time they went: oh c mon it's just good noise, you're hearing things... you try too much... "

Maybe steping inside the wall of sound and sensing beyond "the instruments" is first thing to catching subtelty.

Re: Can metal music be subtle?
March 28, 2009, 12:27:11 PM
Categories can be paradoxes.

Part of being subtle is knowing when to be unsubtle.

For example, an anal rapist is subtle while he's scoping out his victim. Then once he has the pants around the legs and the pat of butter slapped into the crack, all subtlety is dead.