(Here we have the latest installment of Andy Synn’s lists of favorite things that come in fives.)
One thing that metal does very well (compared at least to pop, hip-hop, and even most rock music) is the long-form song. Heck, I imagine if I were to calculate the “average” run time of a song from amongst my vast collection, it would definitely come out somewhere between 5-6 minutes. A “short” metal song is often one that goes up to about 4 minutes after all (in contrast to the fact that this would be considered longer than average in the other genres I’ve mentioned).
One reason for this is that metal often needs room to breathe, to develop its melodic (or dissonant) themes properly. Metal revels in space, stretching itself, filling up the space with noise and sound, light and vision. It’s also a genre often synonymous with story-telling, and one which – largely free from the external constraints enforced upon the 3-minute pop song – contends to offer a deeper and more rewarding (and as such, longer lasting) emotional experience for the listener.
Then of course there’s Napalm Death… so, ok, metal isn’t ALL about length and depth (short, sharp impact is certainly a common trade-mark too) but it DOES tend to do long songs very well.
So I’ve chosen five of my absolute favourites, presented in order from shortest to longest. And there’s not a single Opeth song among them.
ARSIS – A DIAMOND FOR DISEASE (12:52)
Absolutely my favourite Arsis song, this one really has it all. Ridiculous shred, crushing riffage, outrageous speed, killer hooks, and James Malone’s signature raspy snarl. Originally composed as part of a left-field collaboration with New York’s Ballet Deviare, the song has been performed live a few times by the band, despite its near-13 minute run-time, and despite the fact that the drumming alone would be enough to break most men.
(Also, what does it say when this is the SHORTEST song on the list?)
SHINING – TOTAL UTFRYSNING (16:46)
Not for the faint-hearted, this is about as depressing a song as I have ever heard. A slow-burning piece of wrenching vocals and tortured guitar strings, it moves through three distinct, but flowing, chapters of raging black metal groove, haunting piano movements, and dark, dreamy ambience.
Even more harrowingly, the song also features clips taken from a Swedish documentary trilogy by Stefan Jarl called The Mods-Trilogy, a project that spans more than a 25-year period.
The first part, “Dom kallar oss mods” (They Call Us Mods), portrays some teenagers in Stockholm in 1968 who are part of the new movement mods. They are distancing themselves from society, smoking weed, and living “the good life”.
The second part, from which the sound clips are taken, is called “Ett anständigt liv” (A Respectable Life) from 1979. One of the main characters from the previous film, Kenta, is now an alcoholic, and the other, Stoffe, is using heroin. During the time the film is being recorded, Stoffe dies from a heroin overdose.
The third part was made in 1993, and is called “Det sociala arvet” (The Social Heritage). Here the filmmakers tried to find out what had become of Kenta’s and Stoffe’s children.
Not so easy on the ear now is it? (many thanks to Metal-Archives for the above background info)
MESHUGGAH – I (21:00)
When I think of long songs, this one is always on the list. In my opinion the single best argument for Meshuggah as an artistic force, it’s not necessarily my favourite song of theirs, but it is the one I admire the most (and hell, it’s definitely ONE of my favourites).
Precisely 21 minutes of hammering cyber-death and warped neurotic melody, its biomechanical ebb and flow creates an atmosphere and an effect I’ve yet to find elsewhere. It’s also a keen testament to the band’s song-writing abilities that the track feels far shorter than it is, and that it often leaves you with an innate compulsion to immediately put it on again.
Seven years later and I’m still finding new things to love about this track.
EDGE OF SANITY – CRIMSON I & II (40:00 / 43:00)
I’m cheating slightly here, as I’ve decided to include two songs as a single entry – but when they’re both directly linked, I think it’s justified.
Metal’s own version of The Wall, the often-underappreciated Crimson is one of metal’s great concept albums, and one that tells an actual story with its lyrics and musical themes. In fact it was so good it spawned a direct sequel seven long years later, as the ever-active Mr Dan Swanö returned to the world he built with Crimson II. Personally I think I actually prefer the sequel, but I know I’m in the minority there.
Both tracks/albums are masterpieces of raging death metal and fiery melody, heavy on the use of atmosphere and punctuated by effortless progressive touches. The second was actually released in two different versions, one that is broken up into 44 separate ‘songs’ which flow seamlessly but are hell to deal with in a digital format, and another that maintained the original single-song format. Get that one if you can.
(FYI Opeth fans, Mikael Akerfeldt makes a guest appearance on Crimson, supplying some lead guitar and vocals.)
GREEN CARNATION – LIGHT OF DAY, DAY OF DARKNESS (1:00:06)
Now this… this is how you do a long song. One track, one album (and none of this prick-teasing splitting up into separate tracks… that’s right… you know who you are…). This is, most definitely, a true musical journey. At times heavy and abrasive, at others frail and beautiful, the song mixes linear progression with subtle touches recalling previous elements, to maintain its perfectly crafted sense of cohesion.
Certainly the most patient, and possibly most rewarding, song on the list, it marries gorgeous, lilting acoustic work and soaring vocal melodies to surprising sections of metallic heaviness, drawing from elements of doom, death, and black metal to paint a wonderfully vivid and unforgettable picture, intertwining moments of calm minimalism with outrageous sections of bombastic excess.
Epic in both length and ambition, this is a track utterly unmatched in terms of progressive design and musical storytelling.
Here’s a song that almost made the list
BECOMING THE ARCHETYPE – ELEGY
11+ minutes of raging death metal, divided into three separate movements, “Deception”, “Lament”, and “Triumph” – each of which is both clearly demarcated and yet obviously part of the greater whole – it goes from furious, to mournful, to majestic by way of some pretty gnarly blast-beats, killer riffs, sorrowful piano, and an uncredited cameo by Demon Hunter’s Ryan Clark. Still one of their best.
I love a long song, but only if they really need to be long. To build up, or set the feeling and ambiance, or go through changes and progression. Both Black Metal and Prog does this very well. My tops have to be almost anything by Primordial, who are masters of slowly building a more and more intense feeling. Sometimes giving it an almost ritualistic feeling. NeO also does this quite well both with Forget Not and And Plague flowers the Kaleidoscope. Funeral Mist also comes to mind.
Other than that Rush’ 2112 and Tsjajkovskijs 5th comes to mind, but they dont really fall into the metal category.
Altar of Plagues ALMOST scraped in, until I realised that I generally only ever listen tot heir albums/EPs in their entirety… so it kind of fudged the rules a bit… whole albums, but broken up into songs.
Yeah the same goes for me with Solstafir. They have plenty of great long songs, but I almost always listen to the album as a whole.
If one bends the rules a bit, The Faceless’ Autotheist Movement pt. I-III are pretty great. I always listen to them as one track. Same goes for In Mournings Colossus and A vow to Conquer the Ocean, but i guess they are both good and long individually.
Quite a lot of tracks split into explicit “movements” fell afoul of my arbitrarily imposed rules for this piece.
Talking of Solstafir I went through both discs of Svartir Sandar back to back while running some errands after work yesterday evening.
GREAT choice with the SHINING tune… never realised it was nearly 17 mins!!!!
Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor. That is all.
I think I’m one of the few people who like …of Splendor who also actually likes Gloria as well.
I enjoy both as well.
I like you sir.
Well, thanks. You’re not too bad yourself.
Cool idea for a list, and I like all the things you have to say about the subject. However, one quibble: I wouldn’t consider your first entry even a “long” song in this context. I’d think 15 minutes would be a bare minimum for consideration on this list, but then again I’m a doom afficianado.
The one that immediately comes to my mind is Triptykon’s “The Prolonging.” It’s fucking amazing, and over 20 minutes if I’m not mistaken. I’d have to get to my home desktop to come up with a more complete listing.
Some of my faves!!!!
Godflesh – Go Spread Your Wings
My Dying Bride – Return of the Beautiful
Swans – Helpless Child
Satyricon – Tied in Bronze Chains
Between the buried and me – white walls
Dragged into sunlight – anything epic off the first album
I know I’m missing some obvious ones, but these are off the top of my head!
Hmmm, my favorite long songs? I’d say:
Abigail Williams- “Beyond the Veil”
Agalloch- “Faustian Echoes” & “Black Lake Nidstang” & “In the Shadow of our Pale Companion”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor- “BBF3”
I do have a certain affinity for long songs, so a couple of my favourites (limited to songs over 20 mins):
First of all, all Devil Doll albums which with the exception of two are single song albums
Devil Doll – The Girl Who Was … Death – 66.06 mins
Devil Doll – Eliogabalus – 45.01 mins (two songs 20 and 25 minutes each)
Devil Doll – Sacrilegium – 58:56
Devil Doll – Sarcrilige Of Fatal Arms – 79:01 mins
Devil Doll – Dies Irae (multiple tracks but one song) 72:02 mins
Abruptum – In Umbra Malitiae Ambulabo, In Aeternum In Triumpho Tenebraum 60:11
Aldebaran – Sentinel Of A Sunless Abyss 29:38
Deathspell Omega – Diabolus Absconditus – 22:31
Deathspell Omega – Mass Grave Aesthetics 20:11
Deathspell Omega – Chaining the Katechon 22:12
Esoteric – Awaiting My Death – 26:08
Lord Belial – Realm Of A thousand Burning Souls (Part 1) 20:04
Mournful Congregation – The Book of Kings 33:10
Weakling – Dead As Dreams 20:39
Deathspell don’t count… Otherwise I could have populated most of the list with them!
Mass Grave Aesthetics is still my favourite piece by them.
what’s your criteria for excluding DsO other than being awesome?
That was essentially my main criter, and the fact that their long songs are essentially musical novels, more than songs.
fair enough, which I guess would disqualify many of my other favourites too 🙂
I’m just gonna put Moonsorrow’s “Tulimyrsky” (29:45) in here and try not to be disappointed that no one’s mentioned them yet.
In fairness, good choice sir. Also there’s one particular song off their latest album that I do love… It’s name escapes me. Mainly because I’ve had a few.
Maiden’s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner comes to mind. I have many favorites in the 8-9 minute area, though I don’t consider them as “long”. I think it’s very difficult to keep a song interesting once you pass the 10 minute mark. Also, good job keeping Becoming the Archetype out of the top 5, the only list they belong on is “bands that need to go away”.
Old Australian doom band, Paramaecium’s, The Birth and the Massacre of the Innocents would have to be my favourite long song.
On a completely unrelated note, how’s that Bloodstock competition going?
Good question… no idea. We keep on voting and trying to get others to vote though. Thanks for the reminder!
I guess we’ll just keep voting and see what happens.
Crap, missed out “Beyond The Veil” by Abigail Williams. Though I probably talk about them too much, so perhaps that’s a good thing this time around!
One can’t think of many right now. But, “Transcendence” by Gorod and “Goetia” by Triptykon are two that One never seems to get tired of.
Oh wait… “Molekuláris Gépezetek” by Thy Catafalque and “Unearthly Dreamings” by Cormorant.
Molekularis was pretty good, with the awesome jazz solo amidst all the avangardery. Still, I’d consider ‘Neath waters’ his best work..
Meshuggah’s “I” is my favorite piece of music, period. The part at 10:33 is so fucking monstrous.
Really late to the game on this one, but, where’s “Dopesmoker” in all this? Also, since it seems topical, Bongripper’s “Satan Worshipping Doom” has 4 11+ minutes songs, all of which rule really hard.