Returning to a Long-Forgotten Musical Genre

For the last decade or so I’ve listened to classical and jazz almost exclusively. But there’s one genre I explored ten years ago that has drawn me in again, technical death metal. Good job. Yeah I know, classical…jazz…technical death metal.

I listened to technical death metal back in college, for a couple years on and off. I liked the complexity of it, the aggression and instrument virtuosity. If you don’t believe this music can be complex, I’d invite you to go to YouTube and listen to Spawn of Possession’s “Deus Avertat” (or just about anything by them, or Cryptopsy, Hour of Penance, Necrophagist, etc.) I think my thing is I can’t listen to music that follows the verse-chorus pattern anymore, I get bored quickly. That’s the one thing all the music I listen to has in common; complex structure. Death metal in general generally doesn’t follow the structure, the best bands I find state a theme at the start, then cycle in variations throughout, with some repetition of the more catchy, memorable parts. Another thing, it sounds strange to say but I hate vocals in music, and in death metal the growly vocals typical blend with the guitars. I almost see it as instrumental music.

That said, beside 20th century classical music, even the most complex bands like Necrophagist, Cryptopsy, Obscura and others are simple by comparison. But complexity isn’t everything — my bigger challenge with this music has always been it’s more “inherent” limitations. The range of color and emotion in metal is too limited compared with the variety in an orchestra for example. Most technical death metal has one speed (ultra fast) and one emotion (aggression), and you can only pull so much from guitars, drums and vocals.

But over the last few weeks I’ve found that I still enjoy it — it’s fun if I’m in the right mood. And there’s so many more bands to discover now in this age of “everything is (free) on YouTube.” I can find albums which a decade ago were so rare that I had to literally order them directly from the band. Cryptopsy’s “None So Vile” was an album I was DESPERATE to own back in the day, but it was not available anywhere (I eventually found a copy). Now you look on YouTube (among other hush-hush places)
and its just…there.

So YouTube has enabled me to find a lot of stuff I never would have been able to find years ago, at the same time the good stuff gets diluted in the process. With even more access there’s just more stuff you have to wade through to find something good. I still look up reviews to see if something has inspired songs or is just “riff salad.” That’s the thing with this genre of music, you immediately can hear the talent, but the songwriting skills can take time and multiple listens to become apparent.

Although I’ve investigated a few bands I’d never heard before; Arkaik, Spawn of Possession, Hour of Penance, Gorod and others, frankly I find myself mostly drawn to listen to the new stuff by bands I listened to back in the day; Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Dying Fetus, Immolation, etc. (I do like the 2012 self-titled Cryptopsy album.)

But part of me feels like I’m wasting my time with this music. How much more classical could I be exploring? Or do I take my music listening too seriously? Most people just listen to what they like and listen to relax. I’m pretty sure I’ll just dip my toe in and move on. One advantage of getting older is experience, and I often have old interests pop up like this, I nostalgically indulge in them for a while. Then again, maybe I just don’t have enough testosterone for this music anymore! I will say, this isn’t music I’m able to listen to at work easily like jazz or classical. People hear death metal and they’re like “OMGWTF?!”

I’ll wrap this up by saying that as someone who’s not listened to this genre for a decade, I was struck by a few things…

First, the themes of the bands are different. Back in the late-90s, early-00s it seems like gore was the topic of choice, now its far more philosophical. Album art has become very sci-fi; with pictures of alien monsters, alien landscapes and planets or just general chaos. There’s still gory bands out there, but it seems to me that this change in subject matter is indicative of a maturity in the genre. You have bands with names like Wormed, then song titles like “Solar Neutrinos” and “Spacetime Ekleipsis Vorticity.” This is a far step from the gory bands I recall, and I prefer how it is now. Personally I never cared too much since you can’t understand the vocals, they could be singing about drywall regulations, I just like the music.

Second, the music seems much more technical now, much faster, intense, and intense all the time. It’s like they’re afraid to slow down. Some bands that were securely in the death metal genre have shifted sharply into the technical field. Deeds of Flesh is a good example. As much as I love complexity I think this might be defeating the musical purpose in some cases. At the same time however, it is nice that there’s so many bands out there pushing the boundaries and evolving the genre.

Third, a lot of the genre seems to lack that catchy element which makes songs memorable. Music that’s too catchy seems to have less shelf life, but songs need a hook occasionally to bring back the interest. Everyone loves that moment when everything stops, the guitar brings in a powerful, catchy riff, the double kick drums enter below it and the music gallops off. When there’s no hooks songs blend together, especially if you’re listening casually.

So for now at least, I believe I will keep investigating this music. I had a friend in college tell me it’s hard to go from listening to Beethoven to Cannibal Corpse, but I find these days I can do just that.

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