Raven Music Editions is a relatively new company that sells sheet music transcriptions of various ‘alternative’ musics, including black metal. Recently, they’ve published a transcription of In The Nightside Eclipse, Emperor’s classic debut whose quality and notoriety should require no introduction. While the rest of their catalog is fairly limited at this point (consisting of two non-metal albums by Ulver), supporting the company by purchasing these transcriptions at their website may allow them to transcribe more music. Given how much you can learn about a work of music from reading it and analyzing it, it’s my hope that this company is able to continue their work. I’d also like to hear from anyone who does end up purchasing these transcriptions, since the very act of putting music to notation involves some interpretation and opinions are understandably going to vary on how Raven handles that.
This very entertaining cover of Iron Maiden’s song ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ as performed by a bass clarinet quartet was posted on Youtube a few years ago. The instruments take on the melodic lines of the song, which was aptly selected as it is rich in them. This experiment is not only fun to listen to but interesting in how a different instrumentation highlights one aspect of the music while utterly losing a whole dimension exploited by the original composition.
The clarity of melody and harmony is quite enhanced here and so their study and appreciation by the guitar student seeking to learn and emulate this aspect of the song will greatly benefit from this adaptation. However, the loss of the power chord, and particularly the power chord played on the distorted electric guitar means the loss of an ocean of artificial artifacts that form the bulk of the richness of sound of the instrument and which lend metal and hard rock music one of its distinctive aural characteristics.
The necessary absence of the drum set is seen by the more classically-oriented music fan or musician as, perhaps, negligible, but this is only because of the widespread ignorance (either through pop culture or academic music indoctrination) about the relevance of percussion in metal. Contrary to the now-traditional view of percussion as a less important aspect of music (which, in fact, flies in the face of many traditional folk musics around the world, where it is recognized and studied by academicians yet still seen with derision as “primitive”), this reliance that metal has exhibited in increasing amounts is not a measure of scarcity of content or artistic deficiency, but rather the appearance of an unknown variable.
Metal percussion in its most advanced states, that is, in its use in the more artistically (as opposed to technically) developed subgenres of death and black metal shows a usage and expansion that just does not exist in traditional or experimental classical music. As such, academicians have no precedent by which to measure or qualify this. They should perform field research, they should listen, but they are too comfortable and busy feeling self-important. This is the sad state of the intellectually self-gratifying (and ‘morally’ bankrupt) art that results from two centuries of overarching materialism, corruption and decay.
Many would point to the obvious origin of metal percussion in traditional rock, and that is factually right, yet its use and direction has gone far beyond it and in some cases taken cues even from electronic music (especially in the case of some black metal)and jazz music (in the case of some death metal). Metal percussion incorporates aspects of these and has built a whole new art out of it that could be considered the more spiritual child of the pleasure-oriented and technically-nuanced jazz (Editor’s note: DMU has written about this very hypothesis in the deep past).
The future and refinement of metal this metal percussion should not to reside in the empty groove explorations of fusion as seen in djent nor in the facetious exercises of tekdeth which may even borrow directly from genres such as samba in their search for “entertaining and interesting” bits to play, regardless of how this may affect the character of the music. Also defunct inside are the dead-end and superficial attempts at applications of abstract concepts in nu-black metal and war metal. As in all other aspects of the already-cemented, fully-formed language of metal, the role of its percussion and its abstract concepts have been made known implicitly in the music of the classics. Go, listen, study, learn, apply.
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.
As something of a followup to yesterday’s article about rearranging or otherwise reinterpreting metal for compositional purposes – Youtube guitarist VAALVLA recently uploaded a video showcasing the main riffs of some popular metal and rock songs played clean and without any guitar distortion.
This was insightful and/or gimmicky enough to earn the attention of a couple other metal journalism websites, and it helps to reveal, on some level, the difference in technique between, for example, a Slayer and a Pantera song. A drum track was provided, but it doesn’t detract from the lesson at hand. VAALVLA also has several other videos in a similar vein that may be interesting to our readers.
Too many of the bands I review are (apparently) uninterested in their songwriting beyond a basic level, and too many of those that actually are interested approach improving it from exclusively an academic position – the idea that applying enough ideas from theory will make for interesting content. DMU’s orthodox positions are firstly that being able to work from some sort of message/concept is a potent motivator, and secondly that greater emphasis is needed on structural development. These are both useful things to keep in mind, but properly implementing them requires a great deal of effort and possibly some rearrangement of your internal mental hardware. While there is no substitute for hard work, there is one particularly useful technique I’d like to share that helps with the latter.
The concept is fairly basic – take a work of music, transcribe it, and adapt it for different instrumentation, but executing it effectively takes some proficiency. For the best results, you need to use instruments that require radically different performance technique than the originals, or at least something that imposes major restrictions on your sonic palette. The canonical example around here is either a kazoo or a piano, depending on how serious an article discussing the subject is. As someone who relies heavily on software to create and ‘perform’ music, I would tend to recommend restrictive, simulationist sequencing software like Famitracker (which emulates the limited sound hardware of the Nintendo Entertainment System). Ultimately, the exercise has been done enough by other people that de-emphasizing the specific choice of instrument makes sense.
Ideally, the very act of rearranging a composition will provide some insights into its structure. Transcribing the composition requires some understanding of what an instrument can and can’t do, and possibly a strong ear if good notation or transcription is lacking. Furthermore, the limitations of the new instruments may force one aspect of the songwriting into the limelight, revealing its strengths and weaknesses. One caveat is that the derivative you end up making will probably incorporate your own biases as a performer and composer, but even that might help you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses in that regard. I personally should know, since I often end up taking my own compositions and rearranging them as I gain access to new tools I want to take advantage of. In the process, I often end up making structural changes that hopefully strengthen the new versions, and I also learn ways to make future works better.
In short, rearranging is a useful technique to learn some aspects of composition, although it’s no panacea, especially since there are limits to how much original thought you add while still calling it a rearrangement. Given an opportunity to hone your composition skills, though, you should seriously consider giving it a shot, especially if you’re in a band that likes to play covers.