Classical and Pop Metal – Part 1 (Banishing of Preconceptions)

Article by David Rosales, 1st installment of a 7 part series
The terms pop and classical get thrown around pretty carelessly, with little regard as to what they actually mean as foreign meanings are imposed on them. It can be shown that most of these distinctions are quite arbitrary, even if they are meaningful indeed. What we should be asking ourselves is which of the definitions may provide a useful distinction that goes beyond the plain appearances or superficial glances at structure.

Music works at so many more levels than bare form (which is only the means and not the music itself) that the analysis typical of academia which focuses on either what I would call brute-force complexity or what they may deem “innovative” is problematic. Music history has proved that mere innovation, which more often than not is little more than momentary novelty, does not bring about long-standing results in itself. It may certainly result in long-standing popularity, but one may see that in these cases the “novelty” in question, as a concept, antecedes any natural reactions and feelings people may have to it.

A good example of this is The Rite of Spring, by Stravinsky. Its fans are usually music majors, more often than not, or amateur posers who are merely shocked by its reputation and how strange it sounds – how “different” it makes them feel. In each of the cases, the most immediate arguments for the greatness of this music will come in the form of cold musical analyses that point out its innovations in rhythm, or how “shocking” the character is. Basically, bombast and syncopated hip movements.

The same is true of metal or any other genre. Innovations and novelty come and go, the former being absorbed into the background as useful processes to express the metaphysical concerns that the particular music has, while the latter makes an impression and is left behind. As we recognize this universal rule of human-made music, or art in general, we come to understand that we cannot base definitions strictly on whether or not innovation is taking place as this also tends to be confused with novelty. Only time — and long spans at that — can truly prove the difference.

Finally, the biggest preconception we must get rid off to properly start this discussion is that the terms we mentioned before are actually defined. There is no complete consensus regarding what “popular music” strictly consists of. Furthermore, the term “classical” seems to be used as meaning both a period in Western traditional music, and what is actually modern academic activity which appropriates the former for itself as if some kind of crowning ceremony had taken place in which Beethoven bestowed power upon Wagner, who in turn anointed the likes of Schönberg. Let’s get rid of all such popular (ha!) assertions and try to arrive at useful terms.

A look at Exmortus’s adaptation of “Appassionata”

For most of the bands we cover here at DMU, indirect influence from classical music and musicians is rather more common than direct performance of classical music, to the point that you’ll find more discussion of authentic period-style performance than metallic recontextualization. When word reached me of Exmortus honoring the 245th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth by releasing an adaptation of his 23rd piano sonata (the aforementioned Appassionata… well, the final movement of it), I figured listening to what the band could do with this material would make for some interesting writing. It’s worth noting that Exmortus has already done something similar for Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, shredding their way through its fast and technically complicated final movement.

Since I’d never actually sat down and listened to the original Appassionata in any form, I started by listening to a performance. It’s been a while since I was properly attuned to Western classical music, but in my quick inspection I was able to pick up on many of the period tropes (it’s worth noting that Beethoven bridged the often lighter styles of the late 18th century with the melodramatic and more technically accomplished works of the early “Romantic” period of classical music), and I noticed how much mileage he was able to get out of a few relatively simple leitmotifs through various elaboration techniques. The sonata is clearly worthy of further study, although in the mean time one of our more classical-oriented writers would probably be able to shed further light on its hidden depths.

My main goal with this article, anyways, was to take a look at what Exmortus themselves did with the material. In their original moments, Exmortus plays a modernized speed metal style that takes some aesthetic cues from contemporary death metal; this recipe has in the past produced things like ATG’s Slaughter of the Soul, although this band’s usually a bit more subtle in their exploration of such tropes. Their adaptation of Appassionata makes very dramatic changes to the organization of the original. Much of these would be expected due to the mere change in instrumentation; perhaps the most notable is a consistent layer of percussion that understandably makes for a different texture. They’ve also condensed their adaptation down a bit; it would take me further listening to say which parts were specifically cut, but this is definitely an important change. Perhaps the greatest weakness of Exmortus’s version is that it also compresses the dynamic range down to nothing, and it does nothing with texture or rhythm to compensate for that. While the aesthetic needs of metal music often allow for reduced dynamic range, one of the more striking parts of the 3rd movement of Appassionata is that a skilled pianist can create strong contrasts despite the lengthy periods of rapid, stamina-draining performance, and that the ‘metal’ adaptation feels somewhat diminished for lacking this crucial element.

This track is still an interesting novelty that might push a few people to explore the original work. The album this single belongs to (Ride Forth) will go on sale January 8th, although I don’t expect it to contain any more neoclassical efforts. For an example of how original work in this vein can open up new possibilities, try Helstar’s “Perseverance and Desperation” off Nosferatu.

The “Nature” of Metal: A Naturalist and Apolitical Realism


From its very inception with Black Sabbath metal has always placed a special emphasis on a realism that looks beyond human “nature” and its caprices. We can safely ignore the hedonist tendencies of certain styles of metal imitators and detractors who musically, ultimately took more from the rock and hippie attitudes than from metal. It is also important to clarify that most modern bands, especially past the 1994 mark,  are followers and imitators who were not born into the music out of a deeper mindset. In a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, they enjoy the music’s aesthetics while they jest about the lyrics and apparent driving motives of extreme underground innovators, naming them conspiracy theorists or deluded savants, because what the greats say goes against their own culture-dictated values. They ignore that Beethoven, the original creator, is born not when he starts to write great music (which happened at a relatively young age) but when he finds ulterior motivations(circa the sketching of his 3rd Symphony); transcendental visions of a greater humanity born out of fraternity and the individual struggle for self-improvement through suffering push his music towards new landscapes until the day he dies.

Black Sabbath is metal incarnate because not only is it from them that the genre evolves musically, but the very essence of everything that makes metal what it is is reflected in their lyrics. A curiosity for occult knowledge or mystic experience through various means, the so-called worship of power and an apolitical realism that attacked the establishment and that in its time was confused (and probably marketed) as hippie flower-power are all manifest in the band’s first few albums. The three elements ultimately boil down to the search for a truth that lies beyond human construction. Of course, because we are humans, all we have is our human brains and our human motivations — this is something we cannot escape. So what is there left to take a hint from? Nature. The same nature that gave birth to us as a species. The nature that produced an environment which gave rise to our own human “nature” (two different uses of the word nature, for those not paying enough attention).

Nature worship is misconstrued by cynics as either an extreme and retrograde cultural suicide that proposes we abandon the cities to go back to living in caves as wild animals, or simply a kind of replacement for any religion as a different set of beliefs that at the end lead you roughly towards the same goal. What a proper nature worship really entails is not a blind respect for other living creatures at the expense of human well-being, but rather an enhancement of the latter through a mindful and knowledgeable understanding of our relationship to the rest of nature as an ecosystem. In other words, beyond this bubble of social constructions that leave us oblivious or simply make us insensitive to the full extent of the consequences of our careless actions three or four generations into the future (think of uncontrolled population growth and greedy depredation of resources in order to get more money, yet another human illusion to maintain greater mirages).

Realism is here referred to not as the selfish conception driving a Machiavellian politics, but rather the philosophy of forming opinions and taking decisions based on a nihilist but profound understanding of the relative situation of ourselves as  humans. The profound understanding is a necessary appendage to the nihilist mentality because otherwise it can very easily degrade into hedonism or other kinds of short-sighted foolishness. An understanding of the inherent necessities we have as humans, both physical and psychological, can lead us in a very few particular directions. As I see it, we either embrace the rest of the ecosystem as something to worship and live in as vital to us in our everyday lives and long-term decisions as a species, or we develop the technology to live independently from it. So far, we are at a crossroads where we are at the brink of destroying the balance of this planet’s system  beyond repair, and we do not possess the technological means to live without Earth: precisely because our motivations have been too short-sighted, driven by immediate or selfish profit.

Rocket’s engines burning fuel so fast
Up into the night sky they blast
Through the universe the engines whine
Could it be the end of man and time
Back on Earth the flame of life burns low
Everywhere is misery and woe
Pollution kills the air, the land, and sea
Man prepares to meet his destiny

Rocket’s engines burning fuel so fast
Up into the black sky so vast
Burning metal through the atmosphere
Earth remains in worry, hate and fear
With the hateful battles raging on
Rockets flying to the glowing sun
Through the empires of eternal void
Freedom from the final suicide

Freedom fighters sent out to the sun
Escape from brainwashed minds and pollution
Leave the earth to all its sin and hate
Find another world where freedom waits

Past the stars in fields of ancient void
Through the shields of darkness where they find
Love upon a land a world unknown
Where the sons of freedom make their home
Leave the earth to Satan and his slaves
Leave them to their future in their graves
Make a home where love is there to stay
Peace and happiness in every day.

The direction from or mentality with which we approach problems is a non-trivial factor in the resulting answer. If we approach the matter of how we should conduct ourselves from the top-down viewpoint that what matters is this or that political scheme as a result of our “rights”(more human constructions) or needs only, and without acknowledging that our needs depend on and arise from our the rest of nature on Earth, then we will always lose sight of the whole picture. This human-only vision traps us in a political/theological game which gradually becomes more and more alienated from the real struggle for survival played against and within our place in the universe.

Metal was given birth by those who despise petty human society and is continued to be upheld as the greatest art there ever was by those who have come to this ultra-human vision. To us, every vacuous formality is a burden, every accepted social deception that is taken for granted by the herd can be confusing because we are expected to follow it despite the fact that even the sheep know it’s complete bullshit. Most sheep know it, but they know it is in place for everyone to be happy and shielded away from each other, but most importantly, from reality. True metal stands against all of that. Not as a statement of individuality like most modern bands who care about being politically-correct and are given free reign to pose as some sort of social-cause rebels, but as an acceptance of the harsher truths of reality and how they make the upsides even more intense and worth living for.

“This beginning then reaches out to future historical outreach, especially by teaching what humankind does not wish to comprehend, in spite all the immense hardness of history, does not want to understand, something that perhaps only latter days will learn after reaching the nadir of destruction and devastation — that life need be understood not from the viewpoint of the DAY, of life merely accepted, but also from the view of strife, of the night, of POLEMOS. The point of history is not what can be uprooted or shaken, but rather the openness to the shaking.”

–Jan Patočka, The Beginning of History

Only Death is Real

Blind lies rise
Eternal sweet fire
Killing /blink
One with soul
Remains unseen
Licking throne of gold
Soul of bricks
Plague of deaths
Hate rise/fill my eyes
Those with no eyes
Blind to see (him)
Those with no eyes
Come feel inside
Souls of fate
Those with no eyes
Blind to see
Breath now, worship (him)
Remains seen
Warm caress of fire
Breaks the pulse
Close your eyes

Classical String Quartets for the death metal fan, a first look

circa 1800:  Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827), German composer, generally considered to be one of the greatest composers in the Western tradition.  (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)shostakovich01

The purpose of this series is to present the death metal fan (and by extension, the death metal writer/artist/composer) with a look into great classical string quartets that evoke the same violent and stark atmosphere that is typical of death metal.

The metal fan is encouraged to look beyond superficial parallels or differences so that he realizes how these string quartets by master composers developed into a cornucopia of expressions, patterns and details. I wish this would also be an aspiration or at least an inspiration for the artist (or would-be artist) that has the chance of reading it.

Another good reason to listen to string quartets in general is that they tend to express a more sincere and private facet of the composer while also being a test to his prowess in composition.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 133, Grosse Fuge

Originally written as the last movement of his Op. 130, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, this massive movement was once commented on by Stravinsky saying that it is “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever.”. Stravinsky was referring to the absolute character of the music and its jarring disparity with temporal conventions.


Dmitry Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 10 in A flat, Op. 118

The well-known dark personality of Shostakovich’s compositions comes through in distilled and intensified manner in his string quartets. In here we find a mature Shostakovich channeling visions of a personal hell. We can imagine his will to fight through and see the light at the end of the tunnel despite facing terror and dread.

Death Melodies Series (Beethoven)

The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with pioneering Romanticist composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

BeethovenQuite possibly the most well known composer to ever walk this planet, Ludwig van Beethoven’s music has inspired the world for two centuries. Beethoven ushered in the Romanticist Period after he was under the guidance of Joseph Haydn in which he studied and performed works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His Mozartean mastery furthered his reputation as a performer and when Beethoven sought to compose, he started out with heavy influences from his Classical Period contemporaries.

Romanticism: Some time around 1804, Beethoven grew weary of the state of music and decided that he was going to pave a new way. Inspired somewhat by the glimpses of Romanticism that Mozart hinted at during his later years, Beethoven presented a fully formed Romanticist style that would be extended throughout the 19th century in Classical Music. This period of Beethoven’s career is known as the ‘Heroic Period’. The most notable musical work from this time is his Third Symphony in which the second movement is a Funeral March for the then-still-alive Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven was originally going to make the symphony a tribute to Napoleon’s role in the French Revolution, but he was rather disgusted by Napoleon proclaiming himself the Emperor of France, so Beethoven instead insulted Napoleon with a Funeral March.

Beethoven’s hearing started to deteriorate around the age of 26. As his condition worsened he isolated himself and had thoughts of suicide. His art overrode his depression and he was striven to live his life through his works. He kept hammering out innovative and groundbreaking compositions of epic portions that would forever change the course of Classical Music. Ludwig van Beethoven immortalized himself through his art.

Wrangling Furtwängler

“…after having learned the art of conducting with second class orchestras, he became a reputed conductor from 1922. But the nazi era imposed him to make a choice : Furtwängler stayed in Berlin, but as an exiled in his own country, as he used to say. With the end of the war, he was given the opportunity to come back at the head of European musical culture, promoting humanity in music. But times were changing, and he was perceived more than ever as distant from “modernity”, as this concept was understood then.” –

Furtwängler believed that he captured the time signatures that the composers intended. Though, not as popular as Karajan and others, the unique standpoint which Wilhelm Furtwängler displayed shouldn’t go unnoticed.