An Introduction to Metal for People Who Like “Good Music” Part 2


It has been 2 years since I did Part 1. That has a broader introduction which I suggest you start with. This is intended as a minor follow up. Most of the great composers since 1900 have pushed the boundaries of what we consider music. This is part of what makes them great. Their music takes time and effort to properly digest and understand. Keep this in mind when you are first exposed to the bands below.

1. Blotted Science is a band fronted by Ron Jarzombek. They use a lot of polyrhythms and 12 tone technique. Anyone who thinks of early Schoenberg as worthwhile should check this band out. It is not the extreme serialism of Boulez and Babbit. There is still a clear tonal center. Jarzombek uses 12 tone rows in a different way. Here’s a sample: Vermicular Asphyxiation.

2. Behold… the Arctopus is one of the many projects of Colin Marston. It was difficult to pick which of his bands to include on this list. I will warn you before you click on the sample, this is probably the most extreme avant garde music on this list. This band writes extraordinarily complicated music. One could write Ph.D. theses on them. It is all completely composed and not just people playing random notes as fast as humanly possible like some imagine. There is a ton of structure and development. It is impressive as anything you will find in the classical world. Here’s a sample: Exospacial Psionic Aura.

3. Meshuggah is a Swedish band well-known for revolutionizing metal. They are probably the most influential band on modern metal. If you doubt the seriousness of this bands compositional technique, then look no further than the top music theory journal for an analysis of their polyrhythms: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 29, Issue 2. A classically trained musician would cry if they saw this sheet music and had to hold it together in a performance. Enough said, here’s a sample: I

4. Between the Buried and Me is a progressive metal band. They are hard to describe because they use all sorts of styles in their music. You’ll find lots of technical sections, chromaticism, slow melodic parts, jazz influences, and more. Their albums are often huge concepts that tell a story. This makes listening to them feel like a metal opera. Here’s a sample: Telos (if you find the beginning too intense, skip to around 3:30 for a more jazz influenced part).

I could do a whole series on prog metal, because that genre is based around the idea of chromaticism and technique. It is almost a direct translation of Liszt or Paganini to metal. Other prog bands I think are good are Archspire, Cynic, Leprous, Intronaut and the Ocean. We could also continue with the avant metal scene with bands like Jute Gyte (crazy use of semi-tones) and Normal Love. But let’s move on.

5. Burzum is a one man black metal band by Varg Vikernes. There is a controversy surrounding this band, but he remains one of the foundational pillars of black metal. Black metal cannot be summarized easily here. It is unlike the previous bands. The focus is not on technique but atmosphere. Black metal is about creating a turbulent, icy, lonely atmosphere and living within nature. It has a philosophy behind it which rejects the excesses of the more popular death metal. Here’s a sample: Naar Himmelen Klarner.

6. At the Gates were pioneers in the early death metal scene. They write dense music with a lot of counterpoint and interesting melody. Their songs have purpose with a lot of cultural criticism. Don’t fear the label “death metal.” This term has come to mean something quite different than it once did. I recommend With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness in general, but here’s a sample: Primal Breath.

I might do another of these before too long, but I think that’s enough to contemplate for now. Nothing on this list can be absorbed without spending a lot of time with it.

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