What is the use of genre?
Genre and subgenre, terms denoting groups related by ideology, methodology and appearance in art or culture, suggest more than a division of classification: a hierarchical system of musical evolution. These terms and their usages (in the oft-cited examples of ludicrousness with death metal, dark metal, black metal, ambient metal, doom metal, viking metal, forest metal, thrash, speed metal, grindcore, and such combination terms as brutal new york style swedish death metal and trolling dark forest folk metal) convey an extraordinary tendency of the genre to expand toward complexity and with it create from similar philosophical bases radically different diverse intellectual constructs.
For many people, genres convey the same ambience that products do: if the thing can be categorized it is one of several things that perform as it does, therefore it's just a different face on the same essential material. Some people even extend this theory to the differences between rock and metal. This is categorical thinking and it does not reflect the usage of genre/subgenre terminology.
Heavy metal begat speed metal and thrash, which begat in crossover death metal and grindcore, which crossed over once again to make of a flowering of metal styles in the most diverse genre yet: black metal (ranging from slow percussive material to lightning fast melodic to folk-ish rhythms and acoustic guitars). It has all of the characteristics of the previous metals in some form although it ostensibly tends toward the nontechnical. It also drops some of the traditions and patternings of the older material, and through its composition suggests a chaos theory of musical composition.
Yet heavy metal bands, some speed metal bands (but not many), death metal bands, and grindcore bands continue to survive simultaneously. Genre are belief clusters apart from other forms of expression - they have their own self-defined language and topic structure - but subgenre are diversified elements of that original idea, prospering in their own tension as much as similarity to the rest of the family.
For even more kicks, the concept of genre demonstrates a philosophical difference between categorical thinking and nihilistic thinking. In the former system, each thing has a property which defines its boundaries and isolates it from the chaotic, the unknown. In the latter chaos is a natural formation of complexity in our environments which creates life, throughout the perceived boundaries of objects and in a hierarchy of systems which derive their position from placement in a position of energy exchange within the overall system. Here follow a few tips:
In metal, genre means ideas. What is the basic approach of different bands? Heavy metal: hippie-style breakdown and apocalyptic recognition; Speed metal: apocalyptic paranoia and realizations of insanity behind social oppression; Death metal: deconstruction of humanity through insanity and fear of mortality, evolution of mind toward complexity of focus; Black metal: twilight of humanity postmodern joyful mourning; Thrash: frenetic rejection and belief in core concepts; Doom metal: misery is inherent so appreciate pain as masochism of self-matyrdom in creation. Central ideology, called "metal" although there is perhaps no type of music which falls into that pure category: joy and awareness through nihilism and the separation of humanity from doubt and evil as concepts. It folds forth as music theory, structure of songs and language, lyrics, and aesthetic.
Reflects an approach to the science of information and communication through art, with approaches leaving the more linear and favoring the dynamic and synergistic. The language in which the band chooses to write their work expresses a faith in a certain view of appreciation and understanding of existence.
The types of data structures bands use reflect their opinions, conscious or not, of the method of thinking behind metaphysical and scientific theory. What type of logic and logical systems have been observed, or could be produced? Structure mirrors these intellectual developments.
It shouldn't take a web page to remind you that bands often sing about issues they feel strongly about. Where this is poorly done, it degenerates into the self-pitying politics of the frustrated, but where it has meaning is in the translation of core ideas into the subconscious imagery of "real" art.
How the music is encoded in a finished sound expresses much of the artist's approach the place aesthetics itself serves in society. For example, speed metal bands aspired to a rigid and defined sound where death metal and even more so, black metal, have offered a distorted and fluid aesthetic.
With these concepts in mind, you can see how metalheads often refer to the world of light illuminating a silhouette (shadow outline) as society, where the world of light shining from within the darkness that describes the function of objects in terms of abstract workings in systemic hierarchies, or connected levels of ideas, remains a preferred method for interpreting reality. Through ideas encoded in the most seemingly unlikely package, metal expresses a new reality within what most of us have overlookd as existence.
Abstract: The tradition of philosophical influences in metal matches Romanticism to an equally de-Westernizing nihilism, finding in epic changes in state and knowledge more existential value than the safety and stability of morality, religion, and commerce.
The extremities of metal music have been addressed in many forms and voices without touching on one of the most extraordinary factors of the genre: that is the one of the few philosophically-empowered cultures in modern society, and that its philosophical tradition descends through history to those veins of thought which have rejected a fear of nothingness in favor of creation.
An obsession with destructive noise that is a hallmark of the metal tradition arose from an essential question about life, one reflected in all levels and eras of philosophy: why is there what seems to be negative? Why does destruction seem a necessary counterpart to creation? And the human translation: why do we die?
Metal has enriched these questions with a depth of background in the romantic school of thought, which appreciates the emotions and perceptions of an individual as the only method of approaching a truth in existence. Its exploration however of extremity and deathlike themes, dating back to its inception with Black Sabbath, is beneath its exterior of the terrifying an exploration of nihilism, or the science of philosophy which states that all things have an equal lack of inherent value.
Nihilism, despite its seemingly empty value system, is an exploration of values that connect a free-willed individual to life. For centuries, philosophy religion and law have fled the realization of nihilism: that there is no necessary path and no inherent moral value to existence. The method chosen by those invoking that path revolves around a creation of absolute value to guide the human animal away from destruction toward positive, benevolent, actions. Gods, laws, and political beliefs were chosen as the single path to compliance with all that was "good" in the universe, avoiding "evil" and corruptive influences by strict allegiance to that which was known to have benevolent appearance.
However this tack is destined to failure since by substituting for human decision it creates a state of fatalism, where one accepts reality as having a necessary and predetermined quality as its essence, and from that the benevolence which is enforced by fear of its opposite becomes a slavery in itself: a fear of consequence in life, and not a desire to make life consequent, is the dominant ideology of that philosophy. Its creators were so determined to chase away nihilism with value that they made value arbitrary, and in doing so disconnected it from a human motivation to become part of the world: that which involves no choice is imposed and not developed as a matter of individual faith, and thus a belief in action.
Metal arose after the death of hope. The most destructive war in history was fading into the background as what is perhaps history's most pointless war pitted a superpower against its own destruction in a lack of heart toward its task. Materialism had become the norm as people had given up on any ideology as paradoxical and inherently destructive, and focused on short-term goals in order to survive. Black Sabbath, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Bathory, and many others have led a charge from the morass of the contradictory ideal of nihilistic realizations wrapped in absolute values, sometimes without even knowing their objective. But what they have created remains fundamental to metal.
What Makes Metal Heavy?
Abstract: Metal music especially death metal, black metal, heavy metal, speed metal, thrash and variants like grindcore tends to get stereotyped often - and the worst case is when it is done by the fans. The words "brutal" and "pummeling" (in the case of death metal, for example) do not convey the extreme nature of the music, only the extreme nature of the methods used to produce the music - which can apply equally to boring music as to dark, evil, extreme, loud and violent death metal, black metal, grindcore, and thrash. Too often we are told - in metal CD reviews, on the backs of metal CD's, in the reviews written by mail order companies, in the reviews written by labels, or on the metal radio - that a band is "the most extreme" or "the most brutal." But the bands usually lauded as the next extreme most commonly fade away, while a few core bands remain, acknowledged by a serious fanbase to have an unquantifiable quality known as "brutality" or "heaviness." This essay is an exploration of that quality.
In the night, one can hear many noises: some sound scary, and some emanate from patterns in our surrounding existence we find terrifying: the crack of a twig broken by a heavy but stealthy footfall, the screeching of a window being opened covertly, the quieting of ambient animal noises in the presence of a predator.
Similarly music comes in varying degrees of seriousness and, when serious, different degrees of threatening profundity. Metal does not terrify with its loud drums, loud distorted vocals, and guitars buried under waves of electronic fuzz; it terrifies with its seriousness, and the kind of terrifying literal yet abstract reality a death metal, black metal, or thrash band can portray with vivid intensity. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the consequence of fear (death), metal allies itself with death to dispense fear - as it has done since Black Sabbath.
Surely the first to hear Black Sabbath's detuned minor-key power-chord riffing felt that in itself as an affront to music: minimalist in essence and destructive in rhythm, the first wave shook traditional "rock" and "blues" enthusiasts loose with its very appearance. However, as they began to appreciate the music behind the noise, they began to understand what made Black Sabbath "heavy": the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. What made Sabbath terrifying was the abstract and nihilistic breakdowns which interrupted otherwise vigorous and (for the time) violent structures. Evidence: they sold plenty of songs on the radio using the aesthetic of heaviness, but few of their truly "heavy" - or frighteningly real - songs were popular.
Many people avoid viewing metal as art - after all, it is "just noise" - but those who do understand its artistic ambitions understand how it connects to the chaotic world of art. An artist exists to represent his world, but to tell his experience in that representation - to pass on knowledge and awareness. Art is about waking up in a world full of people sleeping as they live, walking like zombies and filling their minds with the useless so they do not have to contemplate the signal of awareness: mortality. Metal (especially the nihilistic, brutal, dark and savage genres death metal, black metal, and thrash) works by taking society's victims where they fear to tread into the void of ambiguity, where anything could happen and death is inches away. That is heavy. To the people who'd rather sit home on a sofa in front of a television eating microwave food, that is an intrusion on their illusion - an interruption of the denial of life's end that in turn denies life - and so they turn it away.
Their justification: it's just noise. Many metal fans and bands seem determined to prove them right by making music which, while implementing the aesthetics of heaviness - pounding furious blast beats, detuned guitars and low chords, utterly gutteral vocals - have not found the profundity that makes metal threatening. And when one looks at the list of history-making metal bands, one can see that the enduring testaments of metal art did not follow that path. What makes metal great is its lack of fear - an unflinching stare into the abyss of the fear of death and the fear of making choices - that cloaks in the "scary sounding" aesthetic of fear a relentless energy toward joy for life.
The Best of Black and Death Metal
Over a career as a death metal disc jockey spanning six years in Planet Southern California, Spinoza Ray Prozak developed a strong sense of history regarding the relevance of the music he played over the air. "Not all metal bands are equal," he once saidand though we'd never want them to be, some are going to stand out in history as having addressed the human soul in the unique way a metal band can - while others will just be working within the paradigm."
Presented here are the bands and releases that Spinoza Ray felt defined the genres of metal - heavy metal, thrash, death metal, grindcore and black metal - by speaking directly the language of innovation within the architecture of metal's musical ideology. Use these links to our reviews to find out more about the bands and their albums.
The band that made the musical bridge to death metal, Slayer broke speed metal into riff elements with the atonality and aggression of underground hardcore but the precision styles and structures of technical speed metal, and in doing so created the basis of death metal.
Influenced by the extremity of Slayer, Morbid Angel were created to inject the fantasy realms of the complex codices of musical theory into death metal, exploring the edge of atonality with chaotic yet centrally-fused melodic structures.
Champions of Swedish death metal, Dismember united melody and rhythm into an electric flow of energy which bypassed aggression for a sense of apocalyptic distribution of power. Beautiful and ugly at the same time it is paradoxically simple and complex.
Dark romantic metal that flows through individualized song structures like a book of poetry encapsulates divergent views of life into one complicated worldview, Therion brought fantasy metal to a realization of artistic relevance to the world and inspired a generation or two of death metal and black metal bands.
Massively innovative, this band took the percussive emphasis of grindcore and put it into a view of the universe as complexity and aggression that is unmatched in metal history. Not to mention being one of the most extreme yet musical listening experiences possible!
Using rhythm like a blunt instrument, Unleashed combined the central chorus vocal rhythm organization of heavy metal with death metal's emphasis on the elements of rhythm microencoded in strumming and details of percussion to emphasize the band's mythological view of primal existence.
Those who popularized death metal, Death (in various forms) remain one of its most important acts for contributions to the styles, structures and aesthetic of death metal, from the architectures keyed to each song's specific structural needs all the way to the evolution of the "Cookie Monster" growling vocal style.
Starting with a dark and unravelling black metal entry to extreme metal but working into a fusion of speed metal and death metal rhythm, Sepultura developed an aggressive but light on its feet style that brought a currency of energy into death metal approaching the techno age.
One of black metal's developmental influences, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost found simple songs a method of injecting viral dissonance to music and therefore extrapolating complexity without necessarily expressing it in the music, all while riding dark but spiritual grooves that still compell listeners to this day.
Raw and essential music follows rhythm through a pounding tribute to violence and darkness in this one-man war against the world; for basic blackmetal, none have surpassed this surprisingly current-sounding landmark.
Creators of beauty in darkness and believers in the empowering factors of imagination and unleashed soul, Immortal made a symphony to the night with "Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism" and then followed it up with an exploration of harmony in internal turbulence with the seminal "Pure Holocaust," an album which captured both the polyrhythmic spirit of chaos metal and the developing science of black metal melody.
Explorers of the primitive and essential. DarkThrone first made death metal into a dark romantic version of black metal, and then stripped it down to create a profound nihilism of chaos and meta-language.
The master of all that is dark and free, Burzum is music "to awaken the fantasy of mortals." Highly successful at that it is a yardstick for all metal to aspire toward.
Slow hybridized black metal that at an early stage developed the trancelike factors involved in repetitive music through ritualistic structures.
Sweeping melodic ushers of an imagination behind the wall of death, Emperor present a metaphor that is part escapism and part a realist dream of fantasy becoming realized against the current of aging and fatalistic human despair.
Insane Nazi killers who make flowing sonatas out of a handful of chords and a melodic idea in order to free the human soul from its servitude in Judeo-Christian intellectual aestheticism.
Abstract: Rock and roll music is the commercial product of a linear, technocratic servitude. The rising movement in metal and other genres against it is the neoclassically-inspired and technologically-fueled progress of ambient music, including what is called "ambient death/black metal" on the anus.com site.
People frequently ask "So what is an 'ambient metal' band? Have you actually seen one? Are there any metal bands out there who, if asked, would identify themselves as 'ambient metal'?" To understand why the term is used, it is important to examine first why bands do anything that they do and second, what the term "ambient" means in the context of history.
Bands are assembled of individuals who together, in some form, decide what their output will be and create it. While much of this is a spontaneous project, there is behind-the-scenes transfer of information through shared musical influences or ideas and concepts the band members collectively find useful. It is unlikely that four guys with guitars sat down one day and saidWe should be the next cutting-edge thing. I know - let's do ambient music, but on guitars." A more realistic version is that a band formed and started playing with some ideas they found intellectually or musically stimulating.
The earliest human music was strictly rhythmic; the next generation of change brought linear melodic music; the generation after that used harmony and syncopation to integrate the two, and this slowly gave way to the furthest evolution of form, in which melody as the primary content expression was given context by the most complex understanding of musical devices yet known. Despite its seemingly technical origins, this music achieved an acme of expressiveness in artistic outlook. Human culture is still waiting for another artistic movement with the patient spirit and yet unbridled passion of Beethoven, Bach, Strauss or Wagner.
In the media age of the 1950s-1960s, the previous popular forms of Christian hymns, blues, country and polka were whipped into a single entity and called "rock music." It has the populist features that classical music lacks: repetitive beat, droning pentatonic harmonies, and constant dynamic intensity. It is cyclic music of an unchanging character. This linear constancy reflected the literature and ideals of the early industrial age, or modernism, although presented in a postmodern ("non-hierarchical") aesthetic concept, until punk music distilled rock music to a few chords and shattered the illusion of uniqueness to any given rock band.
In the 1970s, a countermovement arose in which musicians began looking to new forms for inspiration, and found them in the neoclassical: a merging of classicalist ideas of melody and layered structure with the newfound populist beat patterns of reduced structural changes to prevent intrusion upon the actual song pattern established by melodic architecture. Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and arguably the first ambient guitarist, Robert Fripp, embraced principles of this ethos contra the simplistic lifestyle support of mainstream rock. In this atmosphere underground metal was born with 1983 luminaries Slayer, Sodom and Bathory. Each put out an album colored by the dark careless phrasing of Venom and wrought in the tremolo strum and ambient offtime rhythmic structures of extreme hardcore. This heritage forms the basis of all underground metal.
As any change in musical style points to a change in thinking patterns, the rise of ambience in metal signifies a falling away from mainstream views (for good examples, see Massacra, Morbid Angel, Darkthrone, Burzum, Sepultura and Sarcófago). The linear is broken; the complex and multithreaded view of causality that ancient civilizations had, in which no single event led to change, but a collaboration of events, has been restored in the music itself, as has a belief in varied dynamics, implying a greater narrative range. In this light, it is impossible to see this music as anything but an ongoing revolution, even if the names used here are still foreign to most of the bands producing it.
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