Yesterday I said I would write this, so here I am…writing…this.
How Reeser picks good metal:
After hosting a Christian metal show on our campus station back when I was a junior, and then acting as the station’s metal director this past year, I’ve had to sift through a lot of metal. Not everyone likes metal (most people don’t), and not everyone who does like it has the same tastes, either. The following are just some guidelines I’ve used to try and decide what would make for a good, two-hour set wherein one can see that yes, metal does have some diversity, and yes, some of these bands are really, honestly made up of talented musicians.
One Problem To Rule Them All…
There is a lot of bad metal out there. I am by no means the leading authority on what is good and bad, but when you hear people complain that all metal “sounds the same,” they’ve probably only been exposed to the “bad” kinds of metal that really do all sound the same.
The metal types that re most guilty of sounding alike are thrash, death, and black. These are the kinds that are usually made up of grunts and screams in varying degrees of high-pitchédness, or bass-growlingness. The vocal doesn’t change much, and is backed by an amazingly consistent drumming, and very distorted guitars.
It sounds like noise. Naturally, most people don’t want to listen to it…but I suppose there is a vast noise market out there, or bands would stop producing this kind of material.
Remedy 1: Intros and Solos
One way to break up the monotony that is bad metal is to find songs that have amazing intros, outros, and solos about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the song. These interludes should be kind of longish, and set the mood of the song, so that even if you can’t understand what that guy is screaming about, you will agree that the song has a distinct “feel.”
There are many possible moods that a song can have (I mean, seriously…you’d have to be an idiot, or, unfortunately, deaf to not know that), but some are more common than others with metal tracks. The three that come first to my mind are “scary,” “sad,” and “victorious.” And they’ll always be BIG feelings. Metal doesn’t really get close to you the way other kinds of music do—unless the song in question is actually more of a ballad and involves more singing than screaming. But that’s not what most metal is.
I’m also going to make a feeble attempt to define the three song moods that I listed…so bear with me, and if I sound like an idiot…just go ahead and laugh, because when someone is an idiot, it’s what you should do. Go with it.
Scary: these songs will make you a little bit nervous when you listen to it late at night, and will probably make you think of hordes of monsters and harpies and orcs and any other evil things that will come and steal your lunch money and disembowel you at the same time simply because they can.
Examples of “scary” metal songs:
Norma Jean :: Face
Demon Hunter :: Screams of the Undead
Abigail Williams :: The World Beyond
Sad: songs that make you feel mournful, but not “I-need-a-tissue-because-I’m-crying-my-eyes-out” sad. You’ll probably sigh and look a little despondent, then heft your axe and eat some raw meat with your companions and feel all better afterward (sorry…I’m using a Viking metal band as one of my examples in the next section, which is why I’m thinking about this stuff.)
Examples of “sad” metal songs:
The Showdown :: Laid to Rest
Beanbag :: Ill Minded
Zao :: Psalm of the City of the Dead
Victorious: listening to this kind of song should help you better understand the word “epic,” and usually you’ll feel pretty good when you listen to this kind of metal. I think these songs tend to come from artists whose music involves a lot of battle imagery…but sometimes you’ll find it elsewhere.
Examples of “victorious” songs:
Becoming the Archetype :: Elegy (especially towards the end of the song)
Slechtvalk :: The Falcon’s Flight
Suidakra :: Baile’s Strand
Remedy 2: Chicks
There are chick singers in metal bands! The chick-plus-metal thing is a little formulaic—screaming male vocalit, offset by pretty female vocals that would make dragons and orcs and machine guns weep. But, there are a few good ones that I’ve come across and they’re good to include when you want vocal variation and gender inclusiveness. A lot of my examples overlap with the Goth scene, but I think that just reflects my personal taste…there are chick singers in symphonic metal, Viking metal, and other types of metal bands as well.
Examples of chick-plus-metal bands:
How Like A Winter
Nightwish (although they are difficult to place…are they metal or are they…something else?)
Remedy 3: Hold the Noise
Another way to break up the monotony of screaming screaming screaming electric guitaring bass bass bass kickkickkickkickkickdrum! is to find some metal where the band takes little excursions into less noisy territory. There are a number of ways that a band might do this…like bringing in folk instruments, or piano and non-guitar strings for instrumental songs or interludes as discussed under my first item. I’ve already listed most of my good examples, and a lot of them come from the Pagan/Viking/Gothic Doom sub-genres of metal.
Examples of such bands:
Abigail Williams :: they use piano pretty often
How Like A Winter :: piano + non-guitar strings
My Silent Wake :: lots of interesting folksy instruments on some songs, but not all. They have a song that makes me think of the map music for one of the Final Fantasy games, too, which is kind of amusing.
Slechtvalk :: they sometimes use piano
Suidakra :: they are pretty folksy…they chant and have bagpipes
Virgin Black :: they’ll also use piano and non-guitar strings on a lot of songs…plus, they have a choir, which is pretty amazing.
Remedy 4: Singing vs. Screaming
There are also a lot of bands out there who don’t do items 2 or 3, but that do have a LOT of songs where they alternate between screaming and singing. Some people don’t think that’s metal, but they’re probably the same people who are being marketed the awful stuff that prompted me to write this post.
Bands that do the screaming and singing in their songs are usually pretty good at having some songs that are all screaming, some that are all singing, and ones that are both—say, with screamed verses and a sung chorus or vise versa. Or they might have mostly screaming with a secondary vocal that’s sung beneath the screaming part…or vise versa. Or they might just be so good at combining screaming and singing that they can scream the whole song, and it sounds like singing.
Examples of this kind of band:
And Finally: Good Screams
There are also bands that have almost ALL the vocals as screams, and who, for some reason or another, manage to have an amazing sound. Granted, some songs stick with you better than others, but overall…these bands make monotony seem like a good thing (in my opinion, of course).
Of course, this post only takes into account the metal that I’ve been exposed to, and what I happen to personally like out of it…and I know I didn’t cover EVERY aspect of the genre (there are books for that), but I’ve thought a lot about why I like metal second-best out of all the musical genres I’ve run into (I like Goth best so far), and this is some of the stuff I’ve come up with for what I like about a type of music that so many people say “sounds the same.”
Reeser: I’m in the mafia, too.
SmarterChild: Are you sure you’re in the mafia too?
Reeser: Yep. I’m a mob boss.
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Reeser: Yep. And that’s not a violin in there.
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