Wine Tasting Approach To Death Metal

It is fairly well known to readers of this blog that I like metal. This is no surprise. And it is fairly well known that many people think metal is just a noise; a collection of angry individuals coming together with more of an emphasis on volume than artform. Of course, this is crap. Although I am not expecting anyone like appreciate the interests that I have, all I expect is that people appreciate that creativity exists in places that they may not admire. In the same way, I am not a huge fan of Anime, but I recognise that a huge amount of art and imagination is present in that artform. And a huge amount of tentacles. :P

One style of music I am a particular fan of is Death Metal. There are in fact many forms of metal out there, and death metal is on the more extreme side – death metal is very much about energy; producing music that is laced with excitement, like a chugging train shooting through a sleepy train station. the other aspect of death metal is that it is intensely technical. This technicality on the guitar and bass front is perfectly demonstrated by this video from Cannibal Corpse, and for the drumming side of things this video from Derek Roddy details the level of physical dexterity required in the artform.

Aside from the technical chops going on, what I really enjoy in many death metal songs is how a solid death metal band can architect a song to go through variations in theme and texture, with so much going on at any one time – in musician terms this is known as an arrangement, and writing good arrangements is incredibly difficult, and only comes with good experience. To demonstrate what I am talking about, I have picked a few of my favorite examples of the genre and explained what runs through my mind when I listen to them – I admire each of them for the innovate arrangements and techniques the bands use. Of course, other people have their own examples, and this may be completely uninteresting to the masses, but I am sure some of you will see new things when listening to the songs – we all interpret music our own way, this is my way.

So, onto the songs:

  • All Shall Perish – The True Beast (from The Price Of Existence) – YouTube – I absolutely love this song. As soon as it kicks off, you hear a ripping pig squeal (this is a common death metal vocal style) and simple yet intense drums that roll the guitars along, sending heads spinning from the get go. As the vocals come in, the band begin to chug, but still maintaining a very simple, borderline predictable pace. Then, as the pre-chorus kicks in, one of the trademark All Shall Perish booms brings in some half-time drums and the guitars fatten up, providing a thicker texture to grip onto. From this point onwards, the tune sets into a definitive Hatebreed-esque groove, and you begin to tap your feet. The groove continues to refine and grow and the drums lighten up, with short stabby guitars kicking out the groove even further. the song evolving with each 20 seconds. Although the groove is simple and definitive, the drums are textured with little splashes and crashes thrown into the mix and tom rolls that define the excellent execution of this impressive drumming. The song continues to wedge into even more groove, with the drums becoming even more randomised and satisfying to listen too. Midway through the song, the band come to a halt, guitars ring out and we hear an incredibly percussive set of drum fills that don’t rely on hammering the hell out of the drums, but are instead sparse, and seemingly random, but clearly well thought out. With the trademark All Shall Perish echoey revolution-esque shout, the band set into one of the fattest grooves I have heard, with the drums again incredibly random and complex, the guitars simple, and the whole sound just oozing perfection in execution. The off-time china crash thrown into this part of the song gives it a percussive regularity within all the madness. All Shall Perish are one of the most promising technical death metal bands out there on the circuit, and every aspect of their sound is incredibly well written, clearly drawing from experience and producing some incredible musical textures. This song is a great example of how they take the listener through a journey – from the all out thrashing at the beginning, right through a series of levels, and onto an incredibly groovy, accessible, satisfying conclusion.

  • Anata – The Great Juggler (from The Conductors Departure) – Where I find Anata a fascinating band to listen to is that they have carved out an incredibly unique style, that extensively uses dissonance and harmony to produce music that can be fascinating to listen to, and incredibly emotive at times. I have no idea what they put in the water in Sweden to produce such incredibly unique music, but they need to produce more of it, for Anata are bloody brilliant. The Great Juggler is an excellent example of an Anata song, filled with plenty to get your teeth into. When I listen to Anata, I often find myself zoning in on the drums, and this song is no different. The song kicks off with a simple beat, but with the random little musical textures thrown in that Anata are known for. In come the guitars with a fat, yet unexpected riff that keeps your attention focused, then the song cuts back, changes page and in we go with the full band thrashing. The thrash then goes through two levels of simplification, the drums setting the pace effectively. The song then changes pace totally, hitting you with a satisfying dissonant guitar sound and deliciously machine-like drums that accentuate it, with plenty of off-timing to throw your mind into a frenzy. Nearly a minute and a half in there has been no vocals, just a satisfying musical progression, but then the vocals come in, nice and simple, matching the rhythm. As the chorus beckons, the song takes a melodic, yet still heavy and uncompromising turn, the drums adding pace while the guitars lift you up. Back to the verse the song moves forward, and comes the vocals with the chorus, which add to the emotion of the section. The chorus then grows, using harmony to raise the pressure and then back to the intro riffs, as if the song is moving back in time; it is satisfying getting to hear those changes earlier in the song again, and a third verse and chorus combination, and the song takes us through these familiar steps before drawing to a close.

  • Nile – Lashed To The Slave Stick (from Annihilation Of The Wicked) – YouTube – Nile are well known for producing pretty brain-crunching death metal, with their ultra low-tuned guitars, and thundering drums. Complete with the incredibly well researched Egyptology lyrical content, the band manage to kick you in the balls and conjure up eerie, ancient visions while doing so. Lashed To The Slave Stick is a pretty accessible song from the Nile back catalogue, and demonstrates their musical prowess effectively. Kicking off with a satisfying, thrashy rhythm, with an eastern feel to it, the drums feel particularly satisfying to listen to – listen to how the snare randomises through the guitars as the rhythm grows and expands, with lots of little cymbal splashes and crashes thrown in to add texture. I love it how the china is used to lighten up this segment. Before the verse kicks in, we get the trademark Nile eastern vibratos on the guitars. As the vocals kick in, try to listen to the lyrics, his vocal style sounding like a beast from years ago. The chorus feels particularly interesting to listen to, and is one of my favorite parts of the song. The song then switches on some incredible, exotic ringing out guitars, again a popular device in a Nile song. The song then picks up the pace, becoming slightly mad, clearly marking a change in the story, before it flips back to our familiar post-chorus ringing out. As the songs draws to a conclusion, we get another chorus, with some eerie echoey screams over the top – concluding with a reverse vocal effect. Incredible work by an incredible group of musicians.

  • Cannibal Corpse – Death Walking Terror (from Kill) – YouTube – Cannibal Corpse are easily one of my top five death metal bands, and always provide a satisfying grindy sound. The most definitive part of the band for me is George “corpsegrinder” Fisher’s vocal style. Though mono-tonal in pitch (he basically has two sounds – high and low), his talent is in how he rhythmically crafts his sound – his voice is less of a melodic device such as with normal singing, and more of a rhythm instrument and is incredibly percussive. Cannibal Corpse are an incredibly technical band, with insane amounts going on, much of it unfortunately lost in the mix, but Death Walking Terror is all about simple, flat-out chugging. The song kicks off with a low sounding chug as the band builds together, and them bam! the band drops the key down a few notches to an awesome, grindy, low, guttural sound. Fisher kicks in with his rhythmic vocals and we have an awesome sound chugging along like a train. As the chorus kicks in, the band provide a little more variety, but then it is back to basics – the chugging train of the band moving along – this song is about simple, fat, chugging. After a little while the songs kicks up a notch and provides a familiar Cannibal Corpse flaying at speed, before lightening the pace with a driving energy behind the technical guitar playing.

  • Decapitated – Day 69 (from Organic Hallucinosis) – YouTube – You can listen to Decapitated and take much away, but for me there is one primary area to listen for – the drums. Vitek, who very sadly recently passed away in a tour bus accident, has long been my favorite drummer for his phenomenal, machine-like double bass drumming, it really does walk up behind you and kick you square in the spuds with its fat, fervent sound, perfectly executed. The beginning of this song is a perfect example of Vitek in full form. Off it kicks with blasts of double bass and plenty of little splashes and other textured cymbal effects, and onwards we hear the machine-like double bass drums varying in theme as the guitars also accentuate the feel with eerie bends. In we then kick with an all out blast-beat laden death metal riff before the band pull it up into a big fat defined sound, the drums always pulling the guitars along. Onwards into a suitably typical Decapitated guitar solo which sounds abstract near the end and then back into the big unified rhythm. This song is all about aggression through every bar. Then, out of nowhere, we have a common Decapitated device – a drum solo in the middle of the song, and this does not sound as out of place as you would expect, with the bass drums continuing their machine-like presence. We then return for another few familiar sections before the song ends.

Love it. :)

  • Alastair

    dude, get some jazz :razz:

  • Erik Andrén

    Jono, I’m also a lover of all kinds of metal. I you haven’t heard them before, I’d like to recommend the swedish act The Crown, clearly one of the best death metal acts out there. Check out this youtube clip for one of their best hits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDUNHDUIFAE&feature=related

  • jono

    Erik – love The Crown, saw them at Wacken once – amazing. :)

  • TheGZeus

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Carcass. Carcass’ third album is a triumph of speed, technical skill, melody, dissonance and irony(the latter being something I feel more death metal bands should embrace). For instance, Corporal Jigsore Quandary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YVzetkJWcs

    Necroticism: Descanting the Inslaborous was followed by the unforgettable Heartwork. Less technical(particularly the drumming, which is the lead instrument often on Necroticism:…) but far more melodic an polished, far less irony, one less singer. Title track: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7lP30tSZF0

    How about some Black Metal next time? Arcturus/Borknagar FTW.

  • http://jonhoman.com Jon Homan

    Jono, I noticed you didn’t have a link for the Anata song. I think I found the song on last.fm

    http://www.last.fm/music/Anata/_/The+Great+Juggler

  • Travis Shirk

    Jono, it’s cool to see you exposing all the geeks to metal, keep it up and I look forward to more tracks from you! A bit less “deathy” but have you heard Baroness “Red Album”? Best metal album of 2007 IMO…

  • anonymous

    burzum, maximum volume while i masturbate in oatmeal burzum, maximum volume

    BURZUM!

  • hubi

    burzum = nazi crap

  • lol

    metal is for children

  • Vadim P.

    @_@ my ears.

    (goes back to heal himself with some classical)

  • Tom Mann

    Bookmarked for the serious number of links :)

  • Toby Smithe

    “death metal is very much about energy”: Whilst not a metal fan, I do derive a curious irony from that statement.

  • naughty nipple nibbler

    six feet under 420

  • http://lucumr.pocoo.org/ Armin Ronacher

    Burzum is not death metal. Burzum is black metal and there is a huge difference between those two. Especially in the mentality. Just look at backstage footage of burzum and Cannibal Corpse and compare.

    I personally am not the greatest fan of death metal, the only death metal related bands I listen to are Opeth, Shadows Fall, In Flames and Arch Enemy.

    Regards, Armin