Nu/Alt/Indie metal honors its origins in late 1980s Dischord bands, Fugazi included

August 17, 2013 –

strangelight-9_daysStrangelight, a new nu/alt-metal/indiemetal/metalcore/drone band comprised of members of Made Out Of Babies, Thursday, Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, will release its debut EP 9 Days on October 1, 2013 on Brooklyn hipster label Sacrament Music.

Written and recorded at vocalist Brendan Tobin’s own Ice Cream Audio in Brooklyn, New York in just nine days (hence the title), 9 Days aims to be a low-pretense version of the music presently in vogue in the hybrid metal/indie scene.

While their past and current bands share little in common, Strangelight — comprised of Tobin, Cooper, Kenneth Appel, John Niccoli and Geoff Rickly — focuses on the modern indie/metal hybrid ideal of jarring music that is also melancholic and self-indulgent.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The press release reveals the roots of indie/metal:

Drawing heavily upon DC visionaries, Amphetamine Reptile destroyers and Touch & Go noisemakers and named in honor of a track off Fugazi’s last record, The Argument, STRANGELIGHT offers up all the signature makings of an early ’90s Dischord band

DeathMetal.org has consistently offered up the idea that post-Minor Threat band Fugazi, along with Rites of Spring and Jawbreaker, provided the post-punk basis to all modern metalcore, drone, nu-metal, alt-metal, indie metal and tek-deth.

It’s good to see that a band such as Strangelight, which contains influences from foundations of the nu-indie-metal scene such as Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, in addition to more recent offerings Out Of Babies and Thursday, acknowledges this fundamental influence.

9 Days Track Listing:

  1. Split And Divide
  2. Mosh Party
  3. High Five Hailstorm
  4. Tiers Of Joy
  5. Xmas
  6. White Feather

Gyre – Second Circle EP

August 11, 2013 –

gyre-second_circleNew Jersey metalcore band Gyre has a surprise: not only are they not heavy metal, but they’re in fact alternative rock, and a very competent version of that hidden beneath the skin.

I guess sometimes it seems like it’s best to disguise what you’re doing as what everyone else is doing, but this seems puzzling to me, as if Gyre dropped the metalcore stylings and let loose their alternative band, I think they’d be in every record shop across the nation.

True, the surface is off-putting to a death metal fan. These are the emo-punk-style metalcore riffs, complete with fanning of power chords and a few odd voicings thrown in with the off-beat quicky rhythms that jump around like a protester having a tantrum. And the metalcore vocals, which wail-rant.

In fact, much of the surface metalcore could have come straight out of the 1990s and found commonality with bands like Pantera and Dillinger Escape Plan. It bounces, and then it creates a kind of plaintive lag, like someone getting arrested by the cops to make a point. Then it rebounds.

Underneath the surface, in a method reminiscent of Metallica’s …And Justice for All (subtitle: But We Get Paid Anyway), Gyre weaves melodies around the bittersweet narrowing of intervals that gave alternative rock its distinct whiny, resistant sound.

Second Circle will get dismissed by most because metalcore is already yesterday’s news. However, most metal fans haven’t found anything more compelling yet, so you speak to the audience you have, not the one you want, I guess. It’s a shame because these winding melodies, reminiscent of Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots, grant to the music a depth and power it would not otherwise have had.

As a metal album, Second Circle wouldn’t really make sense. It barely fits as metalcore. But when you burrow under the skin, and stop worrying about whether it looks tough enough to your friends, there’s a lot to think about even in this short format.

Sixgun Serenade – Fortunate Vessels

June 6, 2013 –

sixgun_serenade-avenue_of_the_giantsI think the best way to understand the new band from Texas called Sixgun Serenade is that they are a pop band that likes metal riffs. This song features chuggy riffs from speed metal, noodly lead riffs from tek-deth, but otherwise, is pure alternative-rock-tinged pop music which delivers a gratifying melodic hook in a song that knows, like a dancer in the rain, how to pause and when to move. It combines really effective radio pop with some depth, and battering metalcore and metal riffs that keep the pop from swallowing up a realistic sense of how life is struggle.

If you remember the video for “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera, in which the vocalist had a similar hairstyle and tossed the hair in a similar way, and in which the verses were abrasive and the choruses sweetened by melody and soft vocals, the approach here may seem familiar. In fact, you might see it as a nod or tribute to that video, which kicked off the tendency of metal to accept alternative rock sounds and thus make melodic choruses to counterbalance the rage. Here, the battering metalcore/tek-deth aspects of the music are balanced by what would be a highly successful pop band in the chorus.

Obviously, this is not going to be for everyone. Some say metalcore is a contemporary version of glam metal or hard rock, but I think it’s more like a catch-all rock/metal hybrid not unlike Led Zeppelin or Tool. It aims for a rock audience, and hopes to wean them onto metal, or at least metal riffs, and from there to let nature take over. One thing that Sixgun Serenade do well is that they embrace technicality but, unlike many of the truly chaotic core/tek bands, use it wisely. That doesn’t mean selectively exactly, more than they tailor their techniques to the roles in which those techniques complement the song.

Another thing to like about Sixgun Serenade is that they do not indulge in pretense or hide their origins. This is pop music in the best tradition of the MTV era, where each song is designed to be compact, slightly repetitive, hooky and to have some form of song development that parallels what goes on in the video. The result combines silent theatre, language and music and creates a unified entertainment product. Unlike most pop music, however Sixgun Serenade wrap some guitar fireworks and abrupt riffing into their payload.

Sixgun Serenade released their most recent full length album, Avenue of the Giants, on March 26, 2013 via Dark Slate Records. Describing itself as “a passionate five piece American Metalcore band,” Sixgun Serenade comprises Cody Roye- vocals, Justin Werner- guitar, Stephen Loftin- guitar, Cody Blevins-bass guitar, and Justin Hendrix- drums. Currently the band is touring in support of Avenue of the Giants.

Metalcore finally admits what it is: a grab bag of random parts

Bassist Craig Horky describes Cavalcade as “self-indulgent music nerds playing Cure-influenced, Fugazi-meets-Black Sabbath bastardization … in three different tunings — with black metal vocals.” Last year, the band even worked out an ‘80s dark New Wave cover set — not a typical move from a gang of headbangers. – Heavy Meta

Modern metal bands like to pretend they’re metal, but really they’re not. Like everything else in this society, they’re a bin of odds and ends because people are afraid of offending someone by leaving something out. The result is a total lack of direction, and this is why fans of modern metal are so adamant that their music is metal. If you point out that they’re listening to a musical garbage plate, it invalidates their whole worldview, which is to not pick a clear direction, to never take a stand, and to never find anything in life worth dying for. That would interrupt their all-important quest for personal authority, wealth and social relevance.

Gorguts plan return with Colored Sands

gorguts-colored_sands_tourThe might Gorguts, who added atmosphere to thunderous Florida-style death metal before deviating into labyrithine riff progressive death metal on Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate, and then fading into obscurity with only one resurrecting as modern metalcore band Negativa, plan to return on September 3 with a new album entitled Colored Sands and a tour to follow.

If you don’t hear the heavy metal world pounding on the door to demand to hear it, here is why: the name is obviously of the type that is used by modern metal bands, including metalcore and “progressive metal” that is mostly indie with some progressive and very little metal, and thus, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get Considered Dead II, or even Obscura II. In fact, what it sounds like we are going to get is another modern metal album that, because it has abandoned what it is to be metal in spirit and composition, is a diverse collage of bits in the modern style, which means a giant indecisive waffle that leaves you feeling empty after consumption.

As the staff optimist here at DeathMetal.org, I am hoping otherwise, and putting my trust in Luc Lemay and team’s solid record in the past. However, the team is entirely different now, except for Lemay. Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) is on rhythm guitars, Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia) on bass and John Longstreth (Origin, Angelcorpse) on drums. This also makes metalheads uneasy, because no matter how much they “love true metal,” Marston and Hufnagel are from a hipster metalcore band.

Still, we preserve optimism. The hope is that Gorguts will make something interesting. That excludes technical metalcore. I would rather they released a rockabilly record that join the stupid and horrible trend of mixing Fugazi, frenetic 1970s jazz fusion, and a few metal riffs and calling it “innovation” when by definition it’s a recycling of past ideas. Time will tell, and we can only hope that Gorguts rise above the pack yet again and bring us a vision of something profound instead of something compliant.

Interview: Blinded by Faith with live stream of their album Chernobyl Survivor

May 22, 2013 –

blinded_by_faith-band_photo

Almost two weeks ago, we reviewed an unknown band called Blinded by Faith and their new album, Chernobyl Survivor. While people now are skeptical of metal, and especially the *core-influenced variants, and rightfully so, this album piqued our interest because of its uncommon musicality and ability to develop a melody.

Luckily, the Blinded by Faith guys were pretty cool about our skeptical approach and out of their good nature, agreed to an interview in which we ask them some of the tricky questions about being a metal band in A.D. 2013. After the interview, you can find a live stream of Chernobyl Survivor so you can see if we’re right in our assessment.

You named the new album Chernobyl Survivor. Chernobyl shows up a lot in popular culture, as diversely as in Kraftwerk songs and video games. What does Chernobyl mean to you? Was that why you chose this as the theme for this album?

The band has been through some rough patches with some founding members leaving the band. The three of us that were left (Tommy, Julien and Mick) felt like survivors. We worked a lot to finish the album and find new members for the band. We are currently really happy about the band’s situation and better times are ahead of us!

This may seem obvious, but does the music reflect this topic? A couple of these songs had moments that sounded like a reactor boiling over or radiation permeating a small ruined industrial town. How much does theme infuse what you write about?

Our most recent album is definitely the most agressive and brutal we’ve ever made. I think this comes a lot from our band situation and the music reflects how we felt at the time.

Can you tell us about your origins? Were you in other bands before this, what music inspired you, and what caused you to come together to make this style of music?

We are from Quebec city in Canada and most of us have only been with Blinded by Faith. But Mick, one of the two guitarists, was with GFK, a hardcore band, before. Iron Maiden, Children of Bodom, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir are some of the bands who had a lot of influence on our music especially in our early days. At the start we were just friends who loved metal and had fun playing music together.

Speaking of style of music… what style of music are you?

We think of us as a death melodic band with other influences such as deathcore and power metal.

Were there any other bands or albums in particular that influenced you this time around? I may be reading too much into it, but I picked up some influences or maybe responses to Obscura’s Cosmogenesis and perhaps the most recent Ulcerate album. Am I anywhere close?

To be honest, none of us listen to this band, but we’ll check it out! For Chernobyl Survivor, we were influanced by Lamb of God, Slipknot, Soilwork, Dragonforce and even early Genesis (“Watcher of the Skies” [from Foxtrot - Ed.]).

Do you think of yourselves more as a metal band, or as a progressive band?

We see ourself more as a metal band. But I can tell you that there will be more technical and progressive elements for our next album.

Where did you produce Cherobyl Survivor, and what do you view as responsible for this crisp but full sound? Did you aim for any particular historical benchmark?

The album was produced at Hemispehere Studio with Antoine Baril (Augusy’s drummer) and the album was mixed by Jeff Fortin (Anonymus guitarist). I think the crisp and full sound you desbribe suits the songs really well, since they are really agressive. So this is what we wanted to achieve as well as finding our own sound and style.

What’s next for Blinded by Faith? Are you going to be on tour, or continue writing? Do you think you’ll continue in the same style?

We’re currently doing gigs in Canada and promoting our most recent album Chernobyl Survivor. We’re also in the writing process for our next album, untitled for the moment. As mentioned before, the album will be more technical and progressive, but still melodic and brutal. Everything is going great so far and we have a lot of songs almost done.

How important do you think “style” is after all? Could you have written this album in a different style, like say “power metal” (hope that’s not a “bad word” in your experience) or black metal?

Any piece of music can be adapted to any particular style. In our case, we were aiming for something fast, agressive and melodic. I guess that’s why we ended up with an death melodic metal album.

I really enjoyed the way a lot of your melodic riffs seemed to comment on each other and evolve, more like would happen in an early-1970s progressive rock piece (like, say, from Yes or Camel). Do you view this as important to expressing your ideas in music?

It’s important that a song has a unity as a whole and that it evolves along the way as you say. As a matter of fact, Tommy is a huge fan of Camel!

If you had to pick an ideal tour with which to travel the world, what other bands would you put on the bill with yourselves? Would you come to Texas?

It would be a dream to tour with bands like Opeth or Devin Townsend. In the near future, we’d really like to tour in the US as it’s close to Canada. If that’s going to happen, it would be for the promotion of our next album wich we are currently writing, so keep in touch!

01 – Chernobyl Survivor

02 – So Speak The Voice Of Law

03 – Dead End

04 – Stranger In The Mirror

05 – Drastic Medicine

06 – Pace Of The Race

07 – Shrivelled Wings

08 – Alone

09 – Bitter Aftertaste

10 – Pornscars

11 – Prophet Of Nothing

For more information, visit the band page at www.blindedbyfaith.com.

Blinded by Faith – Chernobyl Survivor

May 13, 2013 –

blinded_by_faith-chernobyl_survivorBlinded by Faith shape melodic metal out of the combined styles approach that The Haunted first used, complete with over-the-top vocals, and show an aptitude for writing fluid melodic riffs that don’t end up as saccharine floods of very similar patterns.

Chernobyl Survivor stands out for having these melodic patterns emerge from the otherwise chaotic stream of mixed-genre elements and dominating vocals. Within all of what’s going on, which is a lot of fast-fingered frenzied riffing in the style of technical metalcore bands like Ulcerate, what emerges is the ability that Blinded by Faith has to write melodies and then expand upon them. They also have a really good nose for rhythm and how to match riffs and rhythm to make a song.

The best bands to compare to Blinded by Faith are Ulcerate or Cosmogenesis-era Obscura, but Blinded by Faith appears to be pulling away from the strict metalcore approach that Obscura in particular has taken. I realize “metalcore” isn’t a definition and that most people refer to Ulcerate and Obscura as “tech-deth” bands. It’s an anti-definition, meaning stuff that uses metal riffs but isn’t metal, because it reflects how those riffs are put together. Metal bands use their riffs to glue each other together, commenting on each other and furthering evolution. Rock bands use riffs like foundations, as something to build upon with vocals and other instruments, and don’t expect them to comment on each other. In fact, they like them to be radically different for a sense of change, and rely on harmony (key, scale) to make them fit together. This is why all rock-based music with metal riffs is probably going to be metalcore, much like all rock-based music with punk riffs became post-hardcore and eventually developed all of the tropes we see in metalcore today. Blinded by Faith is reversing this metalcore tendency by making their metal riffs comment on each other, kind of like themes in 1950s musicals, but more intense!

This CD could be many things. Chernobyl Survivor could easily be made into an amazing power metal album. It has elements of the old (real) death metal as well, and could also go the other way and be a killer jazz-prog album like At War With Self. Right now, it’s searching for the next evolution of its voice somewhere in the middle of these.

On the whole, Blinded by Faith have put together an album that helps nudge this style closer toward figuring out who or what it is, which is good because the tech-deth/metalcore explosion is running out of steam. If they continue in this direction, they could claim a place in the next evolution of popular music and be recognized for their strength in writing melodic riffs.

Is this the end of all music?

May 12, 2013 –

eskimo_callboy-bury_me_in_fucking_vegasFriedrich Nietzsche posited that at the end of human times there would be a “last man” who cared for nothing other than immediate personal pleasure, and in this vapidity would banish civilization to the abyss.

I believe in metal we have found this moment through the work of “Eskimo Callboy.” This band are metalcore/electro crossover. I use the term metalcore to differentiate music from metal that, unlike metal which likes to string riffs together into a continuity creating atmosphere, likes to make abrupt contrast like “protest songs” do through its jarring, discordant and deconstructed melodic structure.

However, that’s just the start of the description. Metalcore means metal riffs without metal composition, but it’s basically a catch all into which we’ve dumped the last forty years of music: rock, rap, punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, techno and even disco. As if emphasizing this, the song below “Is Anyone Up” fits the disco pattern that techno appropriated, and works into it a second layer where verses are doubled with one double being played as straight metalcore, and the other being autotuned vocals in a club music setting.

What continually amazes me about mass culture products is how competent and diligent they are. Not even in the way that some bands, like Ara or De Profundis (both of whom are metalcore, which is sometimes called “modern metal” to hide its hybrid origins), are competent, which is to say they write songs that on a musical level fit together. No, these bands are competent as products. A McBurger must be sweet, tangy and leave you wanting more; good pop must be oozing with consonance, but bittersweet and minor key in its “mixed emotions” that give it “profundity” or a feeling of “authentic” emotion, and leave you wanting more because for a moment you felt like something stirred actual emotion in your soul (when in fact, all you were feeling was your longing for such emotion).

What pop music represents is not a unique musical style in and of itself, but a style of music designed with a singular goal in mind, which is to be mass accessible. As a result, it has no rules per se, although it has many studied patterns it uses. It also has no soul, no style and no boundaries; it assimilates everything it can, and churns it into the same old stuff. Give it a genre like, say, reggae, and it will invent reggae-flavored pop that on the surface uses reggae rhythms and sounds, but underneath is composed just like all other pop. Give it jazz and you get Dave Matthews, Sting, Yanni or Richard Marx; give it punk and you get Blink 182, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy. When you hand it metal, it can’t handle it, because on a musical level, metal breaks the mold. Metal insists that riffs fit together in some way that maintains atmosphere and mood, and thus that riffs address one another. Pop functions by having its “riffs” address only one thing, which is staying in key and being distractingly clingy and catchy.

The threat to genres like metal is that it will be assimilated. Eskimo Callboy assimilates metal through metalcore, which borrows metal styles and some metal riffing and puts it into the post-hardcore “carnival music” style, but also adds electro (disco/techno/trance fusion) and even a small part of broken suburban rap to the mix. The result is quite good, as pop. Every moment is catchy and simple, and while it seems immature to those who’ve heard more music than a teenager, it certainly isn’t amateur. In fact, it’s totally professional. Every instant on this record is calculated to make people like it, and through that, to make it make money. It’s not like more challenging material, which skims the line of what you can like and expands what you’re willing to recognize; it takes what you recognize, sweetens it and over-processes it, and then serves it to you in heaping spoonfuls. That’s just on a composition level. On a production level it’s really to be admired: everything is perfectly placed, the sound is loud and pure, but with enough effects to give it texture. This is the work of masters at their craft.

Those of you who caught the shocked reaction by the band Ara to being called “metalcore” may now see why the band reacted so badly. Eskimo Callboy is metalcore, unabashedly so, and even embrace the label. However, it’s correct to call both bands metalcore, because both betray the metal principle of riffs commenting on riffs, and as a result are at best metal-flavored rock. Metalcore is that which wishes to be metal on the surface without being metal underneath, and it’s a polite catch all that can be applied to “modern metal” (Necrophagist, Ulcerate), nu-metal, blackgaze, black punk, crabcore, etc. We don’t even need to address these bands as metal because even they don’t see themselves as metal.

As it turns out, the song “Is Anyone Up” has somewhat of a concept behind it. It’s dedicated to the (former) Is Anyone Up website, on which people posted anonymous nude pictures which were then linked to online profiles for ridicule and mockery. The site was like 4chan on steroids with a specific intent to be cruel to the foolish, unwise, promiscuous and generally ill-parented girls of the lost generations in the West. While it seems cruel and destructive to me, it’s hard to feel that much surprise when you people email nude pictures to their latest hookup and in the hope that he won’t become bitter when they move on and email them to a friend. Of course he will — treat a man like a disposable lighter, and he treats you like something that must burn.

Let’s look at these insightful lyrics:

and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
girl it’s nothing personal
I’m sorry for this
but I think you fuck anal so well
that everybody should know
your pussy deserves much more attention
than I could give to you
you said that I’d be the only one
-you are nothing more than a folder on my harddisk
and you are nothing more than the guys I’ve met before
-fuck you little whore I’ve got your cunt in HD
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
oh lord ,shame on me!
gnargoyles everywhere
I’ve lost my ability
to infactuate hot chicks
you never will expose a girl again
your daddy will be proud of his stupid little girl
shut the fuck up
tonight I’m on a photo date
with the highschool-sexgrenade
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
I’ve seen a lot of boobies
I’ve seen a lot of cunts
as long as there are hot chicks
there’ll be always men that hunt
#NBHNC
means a lot to me
we cannot stop to stare
so put your ass up in the air

If you live in a world of innocence like me, you probably have no idea what #NBHNC means. It’s a crass term from the above site, on par with the famous Deke chant “no means yes, yes means anal”. Basically, imagine rancid scorn, regret and longing wrapped up into one package of human emotional poison.

Metalcore is a pop genre, not a metal one. Like most pop genres, it is based in the principle of flattering the listener and hoping to appeal to both their egomania and their weakness at once, making them want to become part of your little club. Not surprisingly, the video for this song actually occurs in a club, but that’s not the type of club I’m speaking of. Instead, think of what psychologists call an “in-group.” It’s any group that (like Costco) requires some kind of token exchange to gain entrance as a member. In social circles, it’s often as easy as buying a pop song and knowing the words. Pop is generic music that makes you feel like you’re part of some mass movement for listening along with it, and so it seduces your brain.

All that is needed to complete this review is a bit of comparison. I was recently subjected to The Dark Knight Rises or at least the first twenty minutes of it. Like generic pop metalcore, it is well-produced and written to keep the attention of its audience. Unlike metal and a movie worth watching, the plot is unrealistic and the acting looks like acting, instead of camouflage of their real identities that allows actors to reveal the meaning of the script. More than anything else, the word for this movie is stupid. The script is dumb and implausible, the cartoony characters (“Bane” — LOL) are ridiculous and not threatening, and even every attempt to imbue it with nuance comes across as ham-handed like the truly phoned in acting by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. And yet it is popular. The same is certainly true of Eskimo Callboy, which at last count had 75k “likes” on Facebook, where most underground death metal bands languish at 1,500. However, as if often true in life, the rare is the exceptional, which is fortunate as Eskimo Callboy is only exceptional in its endorsement of “last man” attitudes.

Antigama – Meteor

May 10, 2013 –

antigama-meteorHardcore music shows us the paradox of the individual and the group. The more individualistic someone is, the more they want the group to like them. But to do that, they need to fit in, even if being ironically “different.” This phenomenon ate up hardcore music as former anarchists found out that soliciting support for their bands was a lot like, well, capitalism and politics.

Since that time, stretching from the dawn of the 1980s to late in that decade, hardcore has been contorting to find a new voice for itself. The best candidates came out of the late 1980s post-hardcore bands, who essentially “got postmodern” by deconstructing music into lots of simple bits put together into something bigger. But instead of becoming complex, it became disconnected, dissassociative and chaotic.

After that point, and the onslaught of grindcore, hardcore headed further into the breakdown model. How chaotic could something be before it fell apart? In the late 1990s, they reinvigorated the genre with a dose of metal, which gave it more complex riffing, but still the songwriting aspect of this new genre was elusive. One reason some bands around here get praised is that they’ve tried to make songs coherent again.

Into this drops Antigama, who use the techniques of the current time but are trying to get back to the punk ideal of simplicity. They use the math-metal slash “progressive hardcore” (emo/indie) riffs as much as the next band, and they feature the frenetic vocals that match eight syllables to each beat and stay slightly ahead of the beat as if commanding it like propaganda through megaphones. However, these songs are at heart very much in the classic hardcore vein of verses and choruses and, when a point has been established, some kind of break (not breakdown) before repeating.

The problem is that the “collage” mentality afflicts them still. Under this mentality, it’s bad to have too much focus on any one thing, but better to be open to everything. Thus you mix it all in your music, throwing in as many radically different things as you can to maintain high contrast. Antigama do this more as the album goes along (was this written in studio?) tossing in bits of hard rock, jazz, blues, and other genres.

The first half of this album is really the part to listen to, which is some good and focused hardcore dressed up as metalcore (the hybrid of metal and hardcore that focuses on high contrast through abrupt changes to unrelated riffs). If this band thought through this situation further, they might pick up where hardcore left off actual experimentation, and try some more complex but structured song forms or more articulated riff styles.

Like most record reviews, this one is essentially a “it’s good if you like this style.” This means the band are competent, but when dialogue is about style only, it means that the content wasn’t there enough. What did this record express? Better than average participation in metalcore by a band that should’ve written hardcore music instead and completed the album before getting into the studio.

What the heck is metalcore?

April 23, 2013 –

fugazi_flyerDuring the late 1990s, a different style of metal emerged in the death metal camp. Starting with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage, Misery Index, The Haunted, Human remains, Ulcerate, Meshuggah and Discordance Axis, this new style was given many names at first.

It’s math-metal, they said. No, it’s technical death metal (later shortened to “tech-deth” to keep people from expecting something like what Pestilence did on Spheres). Finally someone came up with “modern metal,” which many of us use like a catch-all.

The record companies were excited. Musically it was different. This style is accessible to more musicians, in addition to more fans, than the old style. It’s easier to make a reasonable impression of it, at least.

Thematically it was different. It’s everything that rock ‘n’ roll has always been. It’s loud, angry, and chaotic; perfect to disturb parents, which sells albums. Finally, unlike metal, it doesn’t stray into truly dangerous areas of thought. It is more likely to be written from an individual perspective, and less likely to glorify war, disease and death than protest them. Socially, it’s much “safer.”

What made it new was that it wasn’t like the extreme metal before it. However, it shared many techniques in common not just with that generation, but the generation before it. Specifically, many of the composition aspects are similar to those from post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Botch. These differences distinguished it from death metal in the following ways:

  1. Vocal rhythms. Death metal vocals are more like speed metal, which is to chant out the rhythm of the main riff or chorus phrase. Modern metal vocals are much like hardcore, which uses regularity of intervals between syllables to form a sound of protest. Death metal also prefers monotonic delivery with variant timbre, where hardcore vocals prefer more melodic vocal delivery with invariant timbre.
  2. Riffing. Death metal riffs are phrasal, or written as a flow of power chords forming a phrase or melody, and these fit together to form a narrative with poetic form, meaning that it takes the song from an initial place to a final place with a much different outlook. Modern metal riffs are inherently designed toward circular song constructions, like hardcore, and are based upon radical contrast between each other to suggestdeconstruction, like hardcore. Metal riffs form a synthesis through contrast; hardcore riffs deconstruct through contrast and reject synthesis.
  3. Drumming. Death metal drumming tends to follow the riff changes; modern metal drumming tends to lead the riff changes, anticipating them. In death metal, instruments tend to act in unison. In metalcore, they tend to each work separately and overlap as convenient.
  4. Style. Death metal aims toward unison of all instruments and riffs fitting together to make a larger narrative so as to maintain mood; modern metal, like hardcore before it, seeks to interrupt mood as if a form of protest music.

Critics of the terms “metalcore” and “modern metal” correctly note that these terms are being used as a catch-all. That’s correct, but it’s only part of the story. These terms are being used to describe something that’s not new, but existed before death metal and black metal reached their modern form. It’s an alternate branch of metal’s evolution, upgraded with death metal technique.

For students of metal history, this isn’t surprising. Genres tend to lie dormant in alternating generations, and then pick up on whatever was done well by the intervening generation. For example, power metal is what happens when speed metal and glam metal bands integrate death metal technique. Grindcore occurs when hardcore adopts crust and death metal technique. Speed metal occurs when metal adopts punk technique. By the same token, metalcore is what happens when you mix Fugazi with death metal technique.

This is not an argument against metalcore. If we’re going to like metal, we should understand it; if we’re going to understand it, we should study it; if we study it, we should organize our categories and language so as not to mislead each other. By this analysis, metalcore is an extension not of metal, but of the post-hardcore movement using metal technique, and thus it should be analyzed as more like hardcore instead of having us project our metal expectations upon it.