In Part 1, I mostly looked at harsh vocals, here I’m going to take a closer look at the importance of LOUD in metal.
If you need a quick guide to any genre terms I use here, or just want to know a little more about metal, especially extreme metal, check out my “Quick ‘n’ Dirty Introduction To Metal“.
Part 2. Metal Deafens
“Why does metal have to be so loud?” is generally the next item on people’s (long) list of complaints about metal. Well, to be honest, it’s not that loud. There’s a limit to how far up you can turn an amp or PA system, and then you have to start buying special equipment.
So on a local level, your average ska punk band is likely to be as loud as your average death metal band. The loudest bands in the world have tended to be big, mainstream hard rock and heavy metal bands, rather than the extreme metal bands who never really have the budget to compete.
I’ve been in clubs that put some smaller metal venues to shame, what with their wetly belching bass noise and those damned tiny skirts and trousers and the Happy Hard Corps Marching Band and get off my damned lawn, kids, I’m old.
There’s two ways metal gets played louder. One is in massive arena, festival and stadium tours, and the other is metalheads playing the albums as loud as they bloody well can. The first is not something that non-metalheads are ever likely to encounter, and the second is pretty rare as well.
What is usually meant by “loud” is that metal tends towards an unrelenting assault, while mainstream music has more ebb and flow. This applies especially strongly the closer you get to the ‘pure’ extremes of metal, while even progressive, experimental and more mainstream metal bands tend to go for a LOUDquietLOUD song structure if they’re playing about with a song’s dynamics (cf. Opeth — yeah, now you guys know what I’m talking about! Right?).
Even this doesn’t apply to doom metal bands, who often let individual notes fade into an icy static background. So the only thing we can really apply to most metal bands, when we’re talking about decibels, is that they are crushingly intense, or that they are fierce, or brutal, not that they are really all that much louder than other sorts of music.
This involves a few factors; technical excellence, unusual tuning (whether unusually high, as in some black metal or unusually low, as in most other extreme bands), unusual speed (again, high or low), and genuine emotion.
Metal fans can tell when a band is ‘faking it’, and they do not like it one little bit.
Here are a few bands that exemplify what I am thinking of here. Of course, your own speakers and setup will affect how you hear them, but giving them a listen won’t hurt. Probably.
Warning: Opinions Ahead!
Nile – The Eye Of Ra
Nile are an incredible band. They are not the most technical band, and they are not the most brutal band, but they reach what feels like a perfect balance between the aspects of technical skill, speed, brutality, and genuine passion and feeling.
Technically incredible bands like Brain Drill simply cannot match Nile’s atmosphere, musical skill and adventurous spirit at the same time as they demonstrate their technical prowess.
Nile maintain an unremitting assault on all fronts, and as such are one of the most intense experiences in the world.
As with the other bands in this post, you can play their songs at a low volume and still feel blown away by their power.
Electric Wizard – We Hate You
Hate and pain drips from every word in this song. That in itself is nothing special to metal. There are blues songs, jazz standards, country classics and even musicals which attempt this, with varying degrees of success (protip: Musicals are not the winners).
What are special to metal are We Hate You‘s riffs. With spiky and acidic guitar rising over a dismal murk of bass and drums, they don’t let you get comfortable even for a second. The intensity of the music is there to make it clear that this is more than just an act.
It’s a song written by disenfranchised and disenchanted people. They might acknowledge that it’s not your fault, or they might not.
But you leave this song knowing that they hate you.
Samael – Baphomet’s Throne
Really not that much to add here. It’s another gut-wrenching, raw, intense track that achieves an eerily hypnotic energy, this time with a minimalist touch that Philip Glass might envy.
The riffs are simple, but seem to be just that little bit longer than is comfortable.
The vocals add to the sense of an impenetrable, inevitable wall of sound, but once more it’s not that loud.
So black metal, death metal and doom metal all have their representatives in the above list.
Hopefully you tried listening to them with the volume down, and hopefully you also agree with me that their intensity, what is initially perceived as their “loudness”, persists even when the volume is lowered. If you disagree, for whatever reason, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Well, if you disagree with anything I say I’d like to hear your comments.
Or if you agree.
I’m just…so lonely.
I reserve the right to change or invent the meaning of any and all words, reference points and skawbs in the event of a difficult philosophical or aesthetic debate. Also to go back on any and all of my words if none of the above are possible. I HAVE THE INTEGRITY AND CLEANLINESS OF A PRISON FLANNEL.
Yes, all of them.