Death Metal Underground

Listening single-mindedly is the only way to appreciate metal

by Manas Kodavala
June 6, 2014 –

emperor-in_the_nightside_eclipse

Metal worth listening to is worth listening to properly. You listen properly by listening single-mindedly. This means that you set aside everything else and put your focus on the music. Although our society places a false premium on time, this is even more important when you have little time: make the most of your time by making your listening experience the most intense one possible. Since attention spans are on the decline, actual listening is rare. Instead, there’s a hearing of background noise while doing something else. The rise of YouTube has exacerbated the issue.

Ideal listening conditions require one to keep all distractions out of reach and out of earshot, allowing as little other sensory input as possible. This means no distractions, no facebooking, no chitchat, no multitasking — leave that to the kitchen while preparing multiple dishes — and listening to entire albums from start to finish. This is most important and cannot be stressed enough. Create a ritual aspect through the act of listening.

Immersing oneself in the depth of an album, one senses the ebb and flow of momentum, the pacing and construction. Also audible are characteristics — you get to see which are effective and why — and one is able to consider the album as a whole, rather than as a collection of similar sounding songs in the same style. Even an average band sequences songs on an album in a particular way for a reason, even if they have not mastered use of theme and leitmotif. The truly great ones lead you on a journey, enable epiphanies, and insights that go beyond music.

When listened to single-mindedly, In the Nightside Eclipse elevates the spirit into the farthest cosmic realms; Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm plays out like a vision of the coming battle before the fact and a return to genesis with clearer, wiser eyes not unlike the role played by the “Bhagavad Gita” in the Mahabharata. Great metal at its best attempts to communicate facets of the ineffable: the vastness and timelessness of the universe, the pervasive nature of the primal life force.

To even begin to experience this, one needs to make a concerted effort at listening. This effort and immersion also reveals which music is timeless, which albums have almost everything in the right place but do not ascend into the pantheon and which are to be hung on a wall for the “collectors” only. A realization dawns about the elements that make albums great, beyond a purely musical value. Superficialities and externalities go out the window. You see into structure, or how all the parts fit together to make a greater whole.

On the other hand, it has become a common tendency to stream a song on YouTube while doodling on Facebook, watching video and playing video games all at once. The best you can hope for there is to pay random attention to how it “sounds,” maybe notice a few hooks or sudden, jarring changes make themselves felt, and declare it a gem. Then jump to the next song on the list of suggestions, repeat procedure. It is no surprise that so many record reviews now are breathless and full of praise yet notice nothing but surface traits of an album.

Casual listening can aid in the initial discovery of bands like you skim a novel you pick up in a bookstore as you decide whether to buy it (or put it on a mental list for later to get from the library). While distracted listening can aid in initial discovery of bands, prolonged reiteration of the same obliterates your ability to distinguish an exceptional album from a merely acceptable one. Listening habits decay and quality of metal declines in parallel. If your time is precious, reward it by listening to only the very best and giving all of yourself to the experience.

Tags: , ,

33 comments

  • apathetic loser

    This is one of the most important articles published on this site. It is surprising how many fail to see why this practice is so crucial. They play music and hear it, but do not LISTEN. They don’t listen with passion and a perceptive mind. I think perhaps they are afraid of what they may discover, or that they are not capable of appreciating the music on any level deeper than pure aesthetic.

    I set aside each night time for immersing myself in an entire album. The choice of album is made during the process of the day. What I experience during a day, or how a particular day flows, feels, and corresponds to my thoughts and emotions, determines the album I listen to at the end of my day.

    As for today, of course, only SLAYER.

    1. Craig

      If Deathmetal.org went by this elitist view then most of the blog articles wouldn’t exist. Preaching without practicing.

  • POWER METAL GUY

    Heathendom should be admired, worshipped and adored, and yet they
    still don’t seem to be breaking; that shows you how retarded the current metal
    scene is right now. There is big power-metal chugging riffs but mostly it is a
    progressive rock wizardry that they inject into their songs while remaining very
    head-bangable – the whole time
    The band is almost orchestral in the way, they have various movements interweaving
    in every song and yet at the same time, it doesn’t sound overly technical and certainly
    not pompous at all.
    full album here:
    http://depositfiles.com/files/iaymczxdy

  • Judgment

    There is nothing more satisfying than listening to an album you are really fond of and realize by the end that you’re out of breath.

    Happened to me just a few hours ago with Show No Mercy.

  • Jeffrey

    And what about reading deathmetal.org listening old Forbidden ? Thanks for the paper.

  • Jim Nelson

    Excellent article. Metal will force you to be single minded if you really want to understand it. You can now take that single mindedness around to other aspects of your life. Yes, that’s right, metal will make you a better overall person.

  • trystero

    To add to this great article: The reward of single-minded listening is not only appreciating whatever you are listening to at the moment in its fullest, but the development of an understanding for music (an “ear”) that leaves behind technical considerations of note and interval (though one becomes more adept at these as well) and allows one to appreciate the communicative power of ANY music more readily.

    Unfortunately it is both impossible to explain and requires repeated efforts of single-minded listening to accomplish so a lot of people never even approach it. Some are more sensitive to it than others (more musical) but music seems to be such a basic thing to humans that I think most can do it. When you have been passively listening to music for a decade and have a collection of records the size of a small dwelling it can sound presumptuous for some random person to lecture you on “how to listen” to music, but then this is one of the tragedies of metal.

    Another point is to listen to the right music. Some music is just unsuited for one’s full attention (all popular music) and no matter how much you devote yourself to it you won’t gain anything. Another pitfall for pride to take over (who are you to say what is “right music”?).

    Or you could just get high, that works too lol.

  • Krabapple

    This article is instructive, and thus possesses a lot of weight appropriate to a blog.

    I will not preach to be innocent- much of my listening is cursory yet I’ve taken this to be enough- perhaps the greatest of imprecations one can lay upon one’s mind is to deny not quantity of experience, but DEPTH.

    Good stuff though.

    1. Manas

      It is through guilt in this respect, in the last 3-4 years anyway, that this article is born. The guilty often have more to speak than the innocent.

      1. fenrir

        hahaha, in this case it’s “the conscious have more to speak than the oblivious”

  • veien

    Sometimes I sit in my listening/thinking/composing room. Sometimes I frolic in the meadows and woodlands with headphones. Be that as it may, when the stars align and brain chems connect with crushing and immensely beautiful melodies of darkness, I get a rush a power to the likes of which no man could survive my one-punch crowning. So it is that moments like that represented the ultimate form of serenity. Subconsciousness; creator and destructor, or so I fancy.

  • mudbloodkiller

    Nowadays, few people could sit through albums like Onward to Golgotha, Vikingligr Veldi or even the more popular ones like In the Nightside Eclipse and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Most of the people in my country are busy boosting the new releases and faking their status as a senior listener by commenting how true as always the new Mayhem is or how refresh Dead Congregation is.

  • dawn

    a good article and I generally agree with it, but what about so called “ambient metal”, of which this site often writes? One of the original goals of ambient was to create music that could be listened to as a background for other activities(Brian Eno etc) – there are certain metal albums of a more ambient nature(Ildjarn) that I often listen to while doing something else, while other classes of releases (Nightside Eclipse) that demand active listening.

  • Kingdom_Gone

    I like to engage in a forward-and-back type movement with my head as I listen to heavy metal. In my opinion the best way to enjoy this art form. Accompany with beer.

  • OBAMA CARE FOR THE WIN

    Remember the album The Coming of Chaos by Sacramentum?
    This album is built around speed metal at its core.
    There’s a band no one remembers now from Germany called
    Angel Dust. Back in 1988 they released a speed metal album
    called To Dust you Will Decay and the song with the same title
    sounds way too similar to a few tunes from The Coming of Chaos
    of Sacramentum to the point of being a blatant rip off specially the last few minutes of the song!!!
    Check the tune here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L-bxd4Ys0o

  • veien

    There a really only three types of listening that I will engage:

    1. Wood and field-wandering via good headphones
    2. Automobiles travelling long distances
    3. Lotus position in a dedicated room

    Some albums definitely benefit from being listened to a certain way.

    Hails!

  • 1349

    A better way to appreciate metal is to play it yourself.
    That’d be not just a “prayer” but a whole “liturgy”.

    But alas, metal is tied to technology & special musical skills, so it’s hard for it to distance itself from being just another kind of entertainment, when you have showmen on one side and clueless audience on the other. For an ordinary man, metal is really the music for listening only.

    1. fenrir

      This is a great misconception. The vast majority of people that I know who play metal are not people I would consider can really appreciate it. Same goes for any music genre, I think.
      Usually they can appreciate musicianship more and may know some of the technicalities and see deeper in that sense but often know (or care) little as this as fine art. A lot of metalheads say “metal is art, metal is culture” but all they want is some groovy and “mean” riffs to headbang too. Some ripping solo to make their blood run fast. That goes for musicians as well.
      No, what is needed for appreciation is thought and some study (of theory also ,not only how to play it on the instrument).

      1. 1349

        You don’t get what i’m saying.
        Of course playing music doesn’t necessarily imply deep understanding of it!
        Still, playing it IS a better way to appreciate it, IF one is actually capable of deep understanding.

        I’m merely expressing the pagan viewpoint: practising culture stands above consuming it; and all works of art that are made for the listener/viewer to listen/view are works of ideology or entertainment rather than of culture.
        You should feed your “god” (here: metal) and work to help it live on rather than just pray to it and ask of it.

        1. Brett Stevens

          I’m merely expressing the pagan viewpoint: practising culture stands above consuming it; and all works of art that are made for the listener/viewer to listen/view are works of ideology or entertainment rather than of culture.

          This would mean local bands covering their metal favorites and improving them.

          Or even taking less-excellent works and improving them.

          Maybe 20 years from now someone will translate Sepultura’s disorganized albums (Arise, Schizophrenia) into something great.

          1. 1349

            “This would mean…”

            Well, probably. As possible implementations.
            Still, they’d (we’d) better first find out what god(s) metal serves and how. So that metal itself wouldn’t be god and we wouldn’t have music for the sake of music.

            All in all, it is of course a traditionalist approach to give higher priority to playing songs that are “right” (“appropriate for a given ritual” / “useful” / “effective” / “sticking to a certain ideal”) than to playing songs that are “new”/”unique”.

  • snaggletooth

    head cleansing article,,,Kudos and eternal thanks goes to the writer for bringing back the most crucial although forgotten and faded matter from the abyss. Listen ,,,Listen ,,,and Die,,,,

  • David Missildine

    Great Article! It has been almost a ritual that the day I buy the album, I sit down with headphones, booklet with lyrics and artwork in hand, and listen to the album, beginning to end. I’ve done this with every album I’ve bought (I have over 1500 cds in my collection.) It really does make a difference on your appreciation of the music and the album as a whole. I don’t even consider giving any criticism or reccomendation until I have done this. I now consider this one of my all time favorite activities to do. I use the internet and streaming, occasionally, to try out new bands but once I make a purchase I need to do this ritual.