On the Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch, the young programmer protagonist, under the instructions of an Aldous Huxley inspired game developer, has the option of picking up a record by Tangerine Dream – Phaedra. As the young programmer and the viewer struggle with paradox in order to finish his game, we find a chance to do a casual DMU reflection on the parallels between metal and game programming, madness and the collapse of western civilization by substituting learning for entertainment.
Some bands perfectly encapsulate a sound and an era through the appropriation and development of an existing idea. Van Halen fascinated the mainstream with his take on tapping and his twist on virtuosity which had existed for centuries on various string instruments. Iron maiden took the harmonies from Thin Lizzy and adapted them for their long narrative epics. Suffocation took the slow thrash metal staccato riff and completely changed its use by using them as breakdowns. While those three bands are heavily associated with their respective techniques that have been used by all sorts of bands, Suffocation has spawned multiple subgenres that are all terrible and are completely eluded by the original intention.
A trio of Australian PhD researchers recently shared the results of an ambitious case study on death metal listeners. The project, titled “Who Enjoys Listening to Violent Music and Why?” (Thompson et al., 2018), aimed to determine if there were personality differences in fans who enjoyed death metal and if lyrical content that involved inducing harm or death to individuals had any effect on the listener’s experience. Examined were possible differences in emotional stimuli between death metal fans and non fans, genders, and participants who either were or weren’t given a lyric sheet. The publication indicates findings similar to earlier studies that measured emotional reaction of music and personality bias as stated:
These findings are consistent with evidence that personality mediates preferences for music (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003; Vuoskoski & Eerola, 2011a, 2011b) and that, conversely, music preferences communicate information about one’s personality (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006). Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) examined the structure of music preferences, as well as the association between personality and music preferences. They used exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to reveal that music preferences revolved around four major types of music: Reflective and complex (classical, jazz, blues); intense and rebellious (alternative, rock, heavy metal), upbeat and conventional (country, pop, religious), and energetic and rhythmic (hip-hop, rap, soul, funk, electronic, dance). Preferences were also dependent on personality variables. For example, people who preferred intense and rebellious music – including heavy metal – tended to be open to new experiences, considered themselves to be intelligent and athletic, and showed no signs of neuroticism or disagreeableness.
Guttural vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles. Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently. And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.
In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years: (more…)
Cryptopsy‘s None So Vile turned twenty this month. A more successful turn off your brain death metal work than Cannibal Corpse, simplified and straightforward deathgrind song structures allowed each musician ample opportunity to show off and drop jaws. Unfortunately aggression and technical showmanship can only cover up for so many repetitive mosh, hit people verses, funky slap bass, and taking three steps back towards verse-chorus-verse speed metal songwriting from their inspiration Suffocation. Nevertheless, None So Vile remains worthy of the occasional, once every couple of years listen due to Jon Levasseur’s superb heavy metal leads when not caving skulls in with a rock or something and Flo Mournier’s over the top ferocity that the original Dark Legions Archive review famously compared to a police beating.
When you’re like us and operate on the assumption that most metal music is bad (or at least mediocre), you probably want to avoid Cannibal Corpse, since they’re still kind of the poster child of lame albeit studio-proficient death metal. In case you don’t, you can always see them on their upcoming US tour. As mentioned in the title, Obituary, Cryptopsy, and Abysmal Dawn will be supporting them. The first two bands in that selection admittedly produced some good content in their early days, but seem to be operating at a similar level of tired rehashes these days. Tickets will go on sale this Friday (December 11th), so you should soon be able to ignore our warning if you feel doing so is absolutely necessary.
Would it be too brief to say that The Book of Suffering is like older Cryptopsy, but not quite as good? Probably not. Cryptopsy’s legacy after 1996 appears to be one of steady decay and loss of focus, although you could be forgiven for placing too much importance on the aberration that was The Unspoken King. Bands that aren’t able to jump to a new trend successfully often retreat to what they know, hence this utterly safe and sterile EP. It’s almost as if Cryptopsy wasn’t merely imitating None So Vile, possibly with some brief intrusions from more recent albums, but that the only song they’d heard by previous band lineups was that album’s introductory track (“Crown of Horns”), and that this EP was an effort to imitate that specifically.
Cryptopsy wastes no time in trying to forge the appropriate links in your brain. The spoken intro to “Detritus” (which is so obviously self-referential that it will probably insult you) made me suspect that the band was about to blast and scream, and from then on not a moment passed that wasn’t analogous to something off None So Vile. The overall effect evenly splits between being more orderly and more chaotic than this EP’s obvious inspiration. 20 years of studio experience understandably make for a more precise performance, as does the apparent use of a template. On the other hand, the Cryptopsy of the past had a better understanding of how to glue riffs together to create narrative and contrast in their songs. This incarnation of the band isn’t quite there yet and often uses breakdowns laden with pinch harmonics instead. Furthermore, None So Vile drew on a greater palette of musical language; part of this is that Lord Worm was a more versatile vocalist in his prime than Matt McGachy; a greater part is that Cryptopsy wasn’t relying merely on themselves as a template. Funny then, that this problem should also happen to another one of today’s reviews…
In summary, the main problem with The Book of Suffering is that it’s uninspired, more than that it’s pseudorandom. Cryptopsy knows how to sound as if they are about to collapse into random noise at any moment without actually doing so, but they don’t do much of interest with this approach. Maybe if they hadn’t burnt themselves playing with the metalcore fire, this wouldn’t be a problem, although the amount of people looking forwards to a second The Unspoken King has to be rather less than those who will nonetheless accept The Book of Suffering as a continuation of form, if not necessarily substance.
Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.
The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.
For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:
I. Easy-going quasi death metal
Carcass – Heartwork
Entombed – Left Hand Path
II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.
Death – Spiritual Healing
Adramelech – Psychostasia
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Cryptopsy – None so Vile
Vader – Litany
IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original