The Death Metal Underground FAQ is an ancient yet valuable and reliable document full of information to help the less initiated grasp some of the simpler aspects of metal. It is also a wonderful attempt to actually explain the Hessian ideals, culture and music. The music section is particularly small and contains a fairly large amount of information and therefore it is time to open it up and go into the details of the points mentioned and what needs to be changed, for it is only through constant analysis of past work can we build upon them and progress.
One must disassociate power chords from regular chords as the fifth only exists to add power and depth to the root note. For those untrained in music theory, the root note is the deepest note in a chord and the main note from which all the other notes are chosen. A fifth is the most consonant interval after the octave representing 3/2 (one and a half tones) of the pitch of the root note while the octave holds a ratio of 2/1 (lower ratios equate to more consonant sounds while higher ratios are more dissonant). Due to its consonant and neutral nature the tonality and mood of a riff depend on the sequence of the chords instead of the textural aspect of a single chord. This therefore forces the composer to compensate the lack of information given by a single fifth by creating longer sequences. A power chord being composed of two notes allows greater mobility on the guitar neck giving access to more notes and therefore the creation of more dexterous melodies akin to classical music. Whereas rock and indie music would take one major/minor chord and play two or three other similar chords derived from basic scales throughout a verse/chorus song whilst lightly varying the rhythm, metal instead expresses myriads of ideas through the power chord with infinite of melodies of different lengths rhythms. This provides compositional freedom through a deceptively simple tool that liberated metal from rock and unto far greater heights.
Most commercial music is contained within individual phrases that do not pass information to the next phrase and are encapsulated within themselves. Metal relies on interconnected ideas that may be vastly different in key, rhythm and tempo but make sense in the overall context of song. A riff does not need to resolve itself- that can be done much later in the song by reintroducing the riff in a different musical environment to achieve a sense of finality or as a point of return so that other avenues may be explored either within a musical space or by another riff that supersedes its place, hereby showing an evolution by slightly manipulating the notes in the riffs (see override of the overture). Another possibility is that of a riff that can relieve the built up tension of the song like a nuclear explosion destroying an enemy city, or can increase the tension like a slingshot being pulled back ready to launch a rock on unknowing bystanders. The relationship between riffs in metal is incredibly complex and like the parts of a good story can be connected in a number of ways.
Lyrics need to reflect the reality of the world we live in either through grand mythological stories or by directly conveying harsh truths… in either case they cannot be sugar-coated nor censored to please those that are scared of the truth. Aesthetically the sounds produced from each of the musicians should aim to be as powerful as possible with the help of distortion and not to deliberately sound “ugly” or “noisy” (as stated in the FAQ) but rather to accept that power and majesty do not conform to Hollywood standards of beauty and are not easily accessible to the majority of people. Extremity should be sought out and used like any other tool but not as a means to itself, as is the case of modern bands. Rather emphasizing absurdly fast tempos or unnecessarily technical guitar runs, the music should ultilize the number of compositional tools available in the expression of power, entropy and darkness.
All traditions- science, art, literature. philosophy- rely on the great works of the past to progress. Metal is no exception, with its deep history and continuous evolution, and therefore it is important to study it like any other academic subject to be able to comprehend its essence and especially to weed out imitators and those that wish to twist it and manipulate metal to their liking for their personal gain. A hessian can trace its origins, recognize the good from the bad and analyse a piece whilst avoiding the downfalls of superficial thought and overly technical jargon whilst missing the overall picture. In these modern times the most important tool one has is the proverbial philosopher’s hammer to ignore the bad and to resist the temptation to be swept up by the tide of mainstream hype.
“…to pose questions with a hammer, and sometimes to hear as a reply that famous hollow sound that can only come from bloated entrails—what a delight for one who has ears even behind his ears, for me, an old psychologist and pied piper before whom just that which would remain silent must finally speak out.” Nietzsche
Rhythm is the aspect of music that pleases to the simpler parts of our brain and rightfully so. Any human is able to ape practically any rhythm by hitting a spoon against a table and is the most commonly used tool trick the masses into liking certain music. Playing with expectations of the guitar strums is how all modern metal bands function. You can insert the same two note breakdown into a million songs and no one will ever call out plagiarism (e.g. metalcore and deathcore). Rhythm is best utilized not as a prison that metal escaped from but just like extremity mentioned earlier, another tool amongst many that can be summoned at any time. Cadence coupled with using the drums in a timekeeping role allowed metal to further push away from rock and blues based music however such is only one facet to the whole story. Syncopation is a beast that must be tamed and should be used to give more power to a riff, a melody or a solo and never in the context of appeasing the basest parts of our brain.
Metal has many tools at its disposition that must be used appropriately and with taste. A rich tapestry of techniques and sounds that were developed in a very short period and that have been misused time and time again, metal is it’s own creature, unique and noble yet also despised and often subverted. One must avoid seeing metal as aggressive rock music or classical with electricity but should instead let it be judged on it’s own merits. Metal is music that communicates to the heart via the medium of the mind and not music to dance with your friends, bounce around and play karate, to make your crappy tattoo/piercing parlor look cool. Metal is the drive in all of us to exceed ourselves and as Hercules and Prometheus- the strength in our hearts to deliver us from the chains capturing our minds.