Guest post courtesy of Tyler Gebar
If one were to closely examine the foundations of death and black metal, they would most likely notice the thematic composition passed down from Romanticist composers like Bruckner, Brahms, and Schumann immediately. However, there is one other genre that has been a major influence to the structure of extreme metal: Hardcore Punk. One may wonder how musicians so tightly interconnected with the classical realm could possibly draw inspiration from the dogmatic mire of punk music, but the aspects of punk in black and death metal are extremely obvious particularly in the area of phrasing.
It is common knowledge amongst most fans of punk music that hardcore punk had an extraneous goal beside simply making music. This goal was to completely alienate their style of music from that of the bland cosmopolitan music that dominated the radio waves. One must ask themselves, though, what intent was placed behind this goal, and what did hardcore punk hope to achieve through its alienation?
During the 1980’s there was a large obsession with hedonistic “glam metal” (a marketing term for image-based rock). This music was a full-flowering of the excess generation beget by the previous hippie generation. The egalitarianism espoused by hippies had passed down a me-first attitude to their children which confounded them despite the fact that their selfish children were products of their own ideology. It seems that the idea of promoting equality amongst everyone and everyone believing their desires should be met without opposition or criticism are unrelated in the eyes of the jaded 70’s counter-culture. Music reflected this attitude by encouraging the pursuit of immediate gratification as a viable path in life. After all, the was is over, a global community is on the rise, and we’ve reached a level of technology so advanced that fear of survival has been eliminated; do whatever you want! It’s not going to hurt anyone!
Punk musicians of the time sensed this loss of purpose, or the loss of spirit if you will. Although they may have not always been articulate, they reflected their desire to rail against this lack of conflict and excitement in life by creating music that exemplified the brevity of an individual’s time on earth, and the explosiveness of war. More so than punk that came before or after, hardcore punk obtained a balance of perfect representation in music. Their refusal to compromise song structure or sonic aesthetic enabled them to compose more dynamic songs, which although didn’t reach the classical level of using several themes to create a transcendent journey that resolved in an affirmation of life, resembled it in it’s desire to speak to a person’s senses through art.
Predominantly this could be seen in the way that chords were used. The main staple of hardcore was the perfect fifth, or the power chord as it was commonly known. This chord did not imply a major or minor tonality (hence being “perfect) regardless of pitch, unless a third (or numerous other tones) were played along with it. What this chord did was enable hardcore punk groups to write lengthy phrases that were not inhibited by tonality. Mainstream rock bands were dynamically opposed to this style of writing because they restricted themselves to using open chords that were required to dwell within their key in order to remain pleasing to the widest audience possible. Along with tonal restrictions, the chords were often merely used as back dropping to the dominant vocal melody which was focused on to shift attention to the lyrics that reveled in the self-serving perspective of the day, thus supporting people’s banal desires to do as they will which they latched onto wholeheartedly.
Speaking of vocal melodies, hardcore eschewed the popular method of gritty gospel-based blues vocals and instead employed a harsh shout that simultaneously moved focus away from the voice and used it as a rhythmic exclamation mark to the terse melodic sentences that were bashed out or fluidly strummed by the guitarists.
In terms of cadence, melodies played by the guitars were aimed to be as unconventional as possible. To achieve this hardcore punk musicians simply refused to compose anything that was rhythmically oriented by not using the drum beats as a guideline. Rock however reduced music to a bodily function by centering chord cadences around constant 4/4 drum patterns (which were easily digestible as the time was split into simple three and four bar phrases) interspersed with tiresome fills that were only amounted to pointless displays of technical talent. Hardcore drummers usually battered out a d-beat (an off-time rhythm that sometimes would not variate through an entire song) or sometimes used more conventional rhythms along with the occasional blasting. What this did is create a rhythm section that was more of a percussive tapestry that underscored the melody as opposed to becoming a simplistic egg-timer like most drummers of the day.
Metal most definitely adopted this form of riff writing, and expanded upon it to feature several melodic themes per song; where as punk often displayed one major theme in an explosive fashion. Despite its quick-hitting nature, hardcore punk was a very relevant influence upon future generations of artists who sought to grasp onto the lagging sense of meaning in this world. Unfortunately, the youth of the suburbs who were always looking for a more radical statement to use as their source of catharsis before they were assimilated into the back-breaking rigor morale of modern society quickly converged upon the art-form of hardcore. Before long they created a formulaic sound by bashing unimaginative three-interval power chord riffs in an attempt to merely sound extreme, but use that extremity for absolutely nothing.
In spite of its unfortunate demise, hardcore punk proved that unrefined youthful rebellion can sometimes transcend its origins, and proved its own point by self-destructing, in a fashion. The music was probably the most beautiful and well-written punk music out of the entire genre, and closest to the classical spirit of art (although the artists themselves certainly weren’t aware of it). The mark of these great musicians will echo throughout time, as in an age where most were content to say nothing… hardcore screamed at the top of its lungs.
“Lied to threatened cheated and deceived
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing
Led up garden paths and into blind alleys
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing ”
– “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Discharge