How to Appreciate Death Metal

Gojira - L''enfant Sauvage - 2012

Gojira – L’enfant sauvage  album – 2012

Listen beyond the tearing guitars and unusual vocals. Although the rough guitar sound and guttural vocals that permeate much of death metal can take a little getting used to (especially if your ears are accustomed to softer sounds), it’s more than just idiotic noise. There are melodies, patterns, and complexities to be realized and appreciated if enough time is spent soaking it all in.

Watch a live death metal performance. Observe how the group members manipulate the instruments. It can be quite an experience especially since the shows are often small and you can walk near or behind the stage to observe the musicians up close. If you’ve ever tried to play those instruments yourself, you’ll probably be amazed with how skillfully they play. It takes practice and dedication, which challenges the stereotype of metal heads being lazy and careless. You might also be surprised about how energetic some of the performers are.

Remember that in death metal, unlike many other genres, each band almost always writes their own music.  That includes the riffs, drums, solos, and lyrics. Writing your own music demonstrates another dimension of instrumental mastery and talent, as well as making the music more personal and less manufactured.

Don’t take the context and subject matter personally. Death metal lyrics and themes aren’t intended to be taken literally. They document the outer extremes of human experience which other genres don’t dare touch, such as the motivations of serial killers, the activities of the walking dead, death itself, and isolation. Also, many bands will cover other topics not usually associated with death, such as Norse mythology. Many bands explore political and religious issues, and write about historical events.

Keep in mind that some death metal lyrics, especially the gore and brutal varieties, often, but not always, elaborate on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, rape and necrophilia. Use your best judgment, including independent online band and album reviews, as well as skimming lyrical content before buying, if you are particularly concerned about the issue.

Be careful not to completely rule out a listening test based solely on lyrical content. Many online music stores have thirty-second clips that can demonstrate the groove of a song, and if the musical content sparks your interest, perhaps the lyrics can be taken more lightly.Look up the lyrics. A common misconception of heavy metal is that all heavy metal bands lyrics are very vulgar, using a lot of bad language. You might be surprised by the complexity and large vocabulary found in the lyrics in some death metal bands.

Look up the lyrics. A common misconception of heavy metal is that all heavy metal bands lyrics are very vulgar, using a lot of bad language. You might be surprised by the complexity and large vocabulary found in the lyrics in some death metal bands

Learn about the sub-genres. Not all death metal is the same. The genre contains many sub-genres that can frequently mix and intermingle with each other. As a result, it may be difficult to ascribe a band under a single sub-genre. Here’s a general guideline to get you started:

  • Blackened – adopts thematic and musical elements of black metal: Akercocke, Behemoth, Belphegor, Dissection, God Dethroned, Firdous Angelcorpse, Sacramentum, Zyklon, Crimson Thorn and many others
  • Brutal: Aborted, Cryptopsy, Blood Red Throne, Deeds of Flesh, Degrade, Deranged, Disavowed, Disgorge, Guttural Secrete, Hate Eternal, Immolation, Internal Suffering, Origin, Skinless, Spawn of Possession, Suffocation, The Genocide Architect, Wormed and many others
  • Death/Doom – slow tempos, melancholic atmosphere, deep growling vocals double-kick drumming: Anathema (earlier works), Asphyx, Autopsy, Disembowelment, My Dying Bride, Swallow the Sun and Winter.
  • Goregrind/Deathgrind – intense, brief, rare guitar solos, more prominent shrieked vocals: Regurgitate, Carcass (earlier work), Terminally Your Aborted Ghost, Dead Infection, Anal Bleeding, Decomposing Serenity, XXX Maniak
  • Melodic – Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and melodies with typically higher-pitched growls: Children Of Bodom (earlier work), Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, The Black Dahlia Murder, At Odds with God, At the Gates, Carcass (later work), Dark Tranquillity, Desultory, Dethklok, Disarmonia Mundi, Ensiferum, Hilastherion, Hypocrisy, Immortal Souls, Kalmah, Norther, Souls, In Flames (earlier work), Sacrilege, Wintersun, Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Noumena, Rapture, and Daylight Dies.
  • Symphonic – Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Nightsleep and Septic Flesh
  • Technical/Progressive – dynamic song structures, uncommon time signatures, sometimes includes clean vocals and acoustic guitars, atypical rhythms and unusual harmonies and melodies: The Agonist, Amoral (earlier work), Arsis, Beneath The Massacre, Brain Drill, Cryptopsy, Cynic, Death, Decapitated, Gorguts, Immolation, Job for a Cowboy, Necrophagist, Nile, Ominous, Opeth, Origin, Pestilence, Psycroptic, Sleep terror, Spawn of Possession, The Faceless, Visceral Bleeding, Meshuggah, PsyOpus.
  • Deathcore – Low-tuned guitars, Pigsqueal (bree) vocals, Breakdowns, Includes Metalcore/Punk Elements: All Shall Perish, Betraying the Martyrs, Born of Osiris, Bring me the Horizon (earlier work), CARNIFEX, Chelsea Grin, Cryptopsy (later work), Dr. Acula, Emmure, In Dying Arms, Job for a Cowboy, iwrestledabearonce, KING CONQUER, Knights of the Abyss, Oceano (later work), Suicide Silence, Thy Art is Murder, Upon a Burning Body, Veil of Maya, Whitechapel, and Winds of Plague
Respect the artists. The greatest death metal musicians almost can’t make a living with what they do, and yet the musicians in these bands continue on in spite of their obscurity. Death metal is so non-mainstream that its musicians have to work incredibly hard for their career sales to reach even a million copies (which very few death metal musicians have actually done). Many death metal musicians are highly intelligent people with comprehensive musical training.

Tips:

  • Keep in mind that all genres and sub-genres are under heated debate, so do not adhere to a single definition too seriously.
  • Many excellent death metal bands never had a big record company behind them to support and promote their music. They are hidden treasures. Look around and discover what’s mostly ignored.
  • Many people call Death Metal and other genres with guttural vocals “Screamo”. It is not. Screamo is a sub-genre of Punk.
  • If you’re still convinced it’s just a bunch of noise, and you call yourself a guitarist, download a tablature of just about any Vital Remains song and try to keep up.
  • Another great reference is “Metal : A Headbangers Journey.” It is a great documentary and really shows you how metal has evolved.

Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey OFFICIAL TRAILER

Uploaded on Jul 28, 2011

Banger Films, 2005
dir: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen & Jessica Joy Wise
dop: Brendan Steacy
by: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen & Jessica Joy Wise

Sam Dunn, a 30-year old headbanger-turned anthropologist, sets out on a quest to explore heavy metal’s origins and cultural impact. His mission? To get to the bottom of one burning questions: Why is heavy metal music so beloved by its devoted fans and yet so controversial?

This ground-breaking film examines the history of heavy metal stereotypes and illuminates the truth behind the music. Witness performances and candid interviews with metal icons and members of legendary bands including Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Twisted Sister, Motley Cure, Motorhead, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio, Rage Against The Machine and Rush, as well as extremists like Slipknot, Cannibal Corpse and more.

Shot on location in the UK, Germany, Norway, Canada and the US, this documentary is an exhilarating tribute to metal’s dark side, and an outsider’s window into a complex spectacle and fascinating subculture.

 

Black metal documentary from METAL a headbangers journey

Gojira – L’enfant Sauvage album –  playlist

God Is An Astronaut – Interview

GIAA band performing @ Vicar St, Dublin, Ireland

GIAA band performing @ Vicar St, Dublin, Ireland on Dec 15, 2012. Picture: Paul Patras

Reaching only moderate levels of success in Dublin, but selling out huge venues in far flung corners of Eastern Europe, Russia and (increasingly) New York, there’s a real argument for God Is An Astronaut being Ireland’s most ‘underappreciated at home’ band. Not that it bothers songwriter, guitarist and occasional instrumental-style vocalist Torsten Kinsella – “We don’t do as well in Ireland as we do in places like Eastern Europe,” he explains, “It’s hard to say why, really, aside from that Ireland’s radio tends to be very commercial, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it. It’s just the way things are.”

It’s been ten years since Torsten and co. started up, releasing the aptly titled ‘The End Of The Beginning’ as “a farewell to the music industry”, and soon found that what had been a studio-only project took off in a big way. As international tour offers came in, the band decided to carry on. “It came as a surprise to us”, Torsten recalls, “but it worked out really well. If I was to give any advice to bands now, I’d say don’t sign to a label. We had to seriously consider whether we wanted to carry on when all our gear – €25,000 worth – was stolen on our first New York trip in 2008. But we decided to follow our hearts and carry on, and it paid off. We’ve had some very successful American tours since then, particularly in New York, with the Bowery Ballroom.”

Given the global success, there must always have been a temptation to head out of Ireland and base themselves elsewhere, but God Is An Astronaut remain pretty loyal to their Wicklow base. “If we were to relocate anywhere it would probably be the US, simply because things seem to be taking off there, and when we go over there to tour we have to pay 60% tax on all our income”, Torsten suggests. “If we were based over there we’d have to pay a lot less. But we like the European lifestyle so I can’t see it happening. My favourite place to tour, though, is probably New York.”

God Is An Astronaut’s current tour – which comes to an end at Dublin’s Vicar Street this weekend – is to celebrate a decade of the band, and has been accompanied by a re-mastering of the band’s entire back-catalogue. “We’re delighted with the remastered versions”, Torsten explains, “they sound so fresh to us, even ‘The End Of The Beginning’ sounds like a new record. It’s amazing the work Tim Young, the producer, put in. He also worked on The Beatles remastered series and on Massive Attack, and his work is incredible. ”

As well as celebrating, though, God Is An Astronaut are using the ten year mark as a turning point, and heading off in a new direction, with Torsten defining the time as “a chance to reinvent ourselves”. With a new album due “probably around April or May of next year”, Torsten is writing heavily, and “in a way that’s different to what we’ve done before. It’s hard to explain, in some ways it’s more commercial than our previous stuff, but in others more obscure. I’m writing with the more off-the-wall moments included from the start, rather than layering them over the top, and there are a few vocal elements that have been added in a different way to before. It’s pretty hard to describe, but all will be revealed.” What that won’t lead to, though, is hefty changes to the live set up. “We’ve always been a band that plays career-spanning live sets. These ten year anniversary gigs obviously fall in that category, but it’s not going to change with the new material, either. It’s what people who come to see us want to see.”

God Is An Astronaut have always walked the line between rock and ambient music, and Torsten seems to be pointing towards a rockier next album, as well as edging in that direction generally. “If I had to pick, I probably see myself as slightly more of a rock musician”, he concludes, “though obviously there are large elements of both that and electronic/ ambient styles. The last album ‘Age Of The Fifth Sun’ was more ambient. My song writing this time is really reflecting my mood, so if I’m up or down when I write you’ll really hear that in the music that comes out at the far end.”

Perhaps there’s an element of that emotional delivery that led to the dropping of the band’s once infamous live visuals, but Torsten eyes more practical concerns: “We let go of the visuals because we felt too many people were doing it, it was a bit too cliché. We’re a different band now, with five members instead of three, and there isn’t the same need to add to the stage set up. It also gives us more spontaneity than we had with the visuals in place.”

Not many bands start with a last hurrah of an album and end up touring the world to hundreds of thousands of people. Far fewer can headline at the Bowery Ballroom and still find themselves so far from a household name back home. God Is An Astronaut, admittedly, operate in a niche area of music – ambient and instrumental styles have almost never found huge pop audiences in Ireland – but their touring record and global acclaim speaks for itself. So, as it happens, do their records; after all the early fears, a decade looks like only the start.

God Is An Astronaut played their final 10th anniversary celebration show at Vicar Street the 15th of December 2012. ~ James Hendicott

Related posts:
God is An Astronaut – Discography
God Is An Astronaut – The Band in Pictures
God Is An Astronaut – No Return (Video)