Since Metallica defined the use of palm muting in metal and made a motif of using the technique to add more emphasis to the rhythmic potency of their music, less creative bands have followed this route to the point where in modern metal melody has taken a secondary importance. Where metal was once about creating the best melodies and exploiting their full potential through arrangements, it has now become music to be listened to with the feet and other parts of the body. Bands seek to make people want to headbang through catchy Jazz like rhythms. By using one note riffs that eschew melody in favor of complexity and groove, metal has become a literal joke. All it takes now is proficiency with the right hand in playing combinations of triplets, single notes and sixteenth note with decent precision so that the sound engineer can readjust everything to a thousandth of a millisecond. Rhythm when used well is an expressive tool that can convey emotions just as well as melody as long as it is used in conjunction with a well formed melody. Let us see two examples of rhythm that have made fantastic songs even better.
Immortal: «Battlefields» from a melodic perspective is completely barebones and relies mainly on pushing the roote note of E into the the listener’s skull. With the octave there are a total of four different notes all contained within the E minor scale. Yet against all expectations Immortal create a truely powerful riff that sets the foundation for the rest of this riff labyrinth. Since the melody falls within the realm of standard Heavy metal and if it were played in a cadenced manner, the warlike effect achieved here would have dissapeared. The ryhmic pulse of this section alternates between the hammer-on and the minor third. Notice how their respective positions aren’t fixed within each mesure, hinting at unpredictability and more importantly creating a sense of forward momentum urging the listener onwards until the song transitions to more cadenced and developed ideas. Immortal succeed in conveying the calculated charge of an army through subtle variations in rhythm.
Vader «Silent Empire»: At (2:46) a Speed metal breakdown appears as popularized by bands like Sepultura and Slayer. The length is kept short just so that the second guitar can insert a previous idea to build tension to build to the powerful climax that is contained within this song. Just a simple rhythm that does not seek to draw attention but is there as a device to reintroduce a previous motif fluidly without devolving into groove. The syncopated rhythm eases the break while maintaining the necessary agression for the following ideas to fully manifest themselves. Vader use the most common and lowest tools with great songwriting acumen to allow for an explosive finale in one of the more vicious climaxes in Death metal.
These simple examples show that even with strong danceable rhythms, one can still create inspiring Extreme metal without devolving into modern metal idiocy. Join us for Part 2 where we continue to analyse examples of such rhythms used well in metal.