Mar 272013

 (I wish I had thought of this cool idea for a post. But BadWolf beat me to it — and this is his piece.)

It’s not news to anyone reading this ( I hope) that heavy metal culture has an elitist streak. In fact, read enough comment threads on this blog and others, and you will notice a tiered system of elitism, false barricades that we, as fans, erect to keep ourselves distanced from a perceived wasteland that is ‘the mainstream.’ By virtue of reading a metal blog, I’d wager you’re already a step or two up on the elitism pyramid. By definition, as a metal blogger, I am MORE than a few steps up on the elitism pyramid. But I’m not far enough up to lose my sense of perspective.

There is an appropriate amount of ironic self-distancing when appreciating art. The top of the elitist pyramid? Probably black metal purists, and look how even the mainstream lambasts the true corpsepaint-set as clowns. Those folks would do well to remember that most of the Norwegian attack bands abandoned the strict black metal template quite rapidly. Ihsahn is in a prog band now. Mayhem put electronica all up in their second album.

But at the same time, from where I stand, the lowest rung of elitism is abjectly deserving of ridicule as well. And what constitutes that bottommost rung? Probably the bias against breakdown-centric bands. You can even see it on No Clean Singing—we’re covering a lot more black metal than deathcore these days.


Which is probably a good thing. Most deathcore bands produce cookie-cutter awful music. But some people—I’m sure you’ve read their blogs, followed them on Twitter and Facebook, seen them at shows, spoken to them over beer or coffee—these people disregard bands simply because they put breakdowns at the end of their songs, without any substantiated opinion. I’m guilty of the same prejudice, but let’s be honest, it’s exactly as ridiculous as puritanical Burzum-copying.

This prejudice does the genre a disservice. Lest we forget—the breakdown is one of the oldest standards of heavy metal songwriting. It is a hallmark of classic metal. Perhaps we need a history lesson: these are my favorite classic metal breakdowns.


Celtic Frost – “Circle of the Tyrants”


Oh yes. There is no extreme metal without Celtic Frost. Venom may have done it sooner—hell, Tom G Warrior and company did it sooner themselves as Hellhammer—but Celtic Frost did it better. The Morbid Tales EP is one of extreme metal’s amino acids, present in the most complex metal proteins, and “Circle of the Tyrants” is one of its most enduring songs. And yeah, it has a breakdown.


Entombed – “Stranger Aeons”


If you haven’t read Daniel Ekeroth’s book, Swedish Death Metal (and I highly recommend you do), you may not know that the members of Entombed, and virtually every other seminal Swedish death metal band, were all hardcore punks first, which probably explains why they love the breakdown so much. My favorite Entombed breakdown is in this cut off 1991’s Clandestine.


Death – “Flesh and the Power it Holds”


By this point in his career, Chuck Schuldiner was not making death metal proper. “Flesh and the Power it Holds”, off the incredible album The Sound of Perseverance, goes from power metal melodies to odd jazz interludes and some extended stretches of blistering death-thrash, but Chuck did make room for one killer breakdown, the template for every melodic metalcore breakdown of the naughty aughties, and of course it’s nowhere near the end of the song.


Opeth – “Deliverence”


Oh yes, they did it too. Opeth sort of stand implicitly against the sort of music that you’d expect to hear a breakdown in. Their aesthetic, prog-rock inclinations, obvious flourishes of folk and jazz, and copious mellow clean-singing sections all oppose the commercial metalcore trend. Put another way, it’s easier to imaigne an Opeth fan in tweed than in tight jeans.

That said, “Deliverance” has a crushing double-bass-and-low-triplet breakdown. You could karate-dance to it if you could last long enough: the breakdown itself is the 3-minute long finale  in a 14-minute  song, and they tease the hell out of it.


Metallica – “One”


Everyone knows this breakdown; “Darkness. Imprisoning me. All that I see…” It’s easy to forget just how much early hardcore went into Metallica’s formula. It was their second secret ingredient right after unknown NWOBHM bands. This, perhaps their heaviest moment (and somehow, it comes at the end of a ballad), is also one of the most cinematic, mimicking the machine-guns in the narrator’s war-torn psyche.


Slayer – “Raining Blood”


Likewise, everyone knows this breakdown, after all, it ends one of the only true ‘classics’ of extreme metal. People remember “Raining Blood” for its introductory statement, but remember, the breakdown is where skulls met pavement.


Dismember – “Skinfather”


it may not be the most well-known, but the breakdown at the end of Dismember’s “Skinfather” is my absolute favorite. From the funky riff, to the reverse-echo’d snare hits, to the vocal sample that cues it in…

Why don’t you just kill yourself!?!?!”

…this is the perfect breakdown. Dismember have a back-catalog full of amazing albums, but this is the moment that made me a fan.


What are your favorite classic breakdowns? Share them with me in the comments!


  1. The fact that the standard Deathcore version is even called a breakdown is a disservice to the technique in its proper form, as displayed above. It’s good to see the Deathcore trend losing steam, but who knows what terrible new genre will come next.

    • “It’s good to see the deathcore trend lose steam…”

      This comment aged like a corpse in the sun lmao

  2. I know this is a personal list based on taste but come on…really?…no Suffocation?

  3. Breakdowns themselves arent really the issue. As youve pointed out, bands have been using them since the early stages of extreme metal. The problem is that Deathcore is all about the breakdown. They use that same open-note breakdown over and over again…usually multiple times in the same song. Its tired and predictable.

    Smart bands like the ones above write breakdowns that arent just “chug-chug” and they tend to pepper them in sparingly throughout the album

    (and, on a personal level, Ive got as many issues with “-core” vocals as I do their reliance on breakdowns)

  4. Seems like someone needs to be contrary here, so I’ll step up. Without taking issue with the point that a whole lotta deathcore is formulaic and not very interesting (which could be said about the vast mid-section of lots of metal genres), I still enjoy a good roof-collapsing deathcore breakdown when it’s part of a good song. In fact, I’m going to go listen to “Wage Slaves” by All Shall Perish right now . . . .

    • My ASP breakdown go-to is definitely “Stabbing to Purge Dissumulation”. That whole song is just brutal and unrelenting. Totally not ashamed that I love that song (and the album it’s on).

      “Now. You’re. All. Just. Empty. Fucking. Soulless. Machines. rrrRRIIPP YOU APART!” *furious headbanging, endangering other drivers*

      • I second that. Fuckin great album. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’ve never banged by stupid head harder at a live show than when I saw ASP for the first time, back before everybody and his brother jumped into the deathcore trend.

      • In their prime, ASP put out what I, personally, consider the two best deathcore albums ever. Awaken the Dreamers is one album I find myself consistently going back to and enjoying; the songs are so tight and creative. I honestly feel like that album is the one truly progressive deathcore album I’ve heard – the band seems like they have a million ideas to revel in, but also have the discipline to turn them into good songs. Too bad that lineup fell apart, I’d love to see how much further they could have gone with that sound.

        • It would have been interesting to see where that group of guys would have been by today, but as you say, in their prime they put out some albums that I think have stood the test of time. Not to say they’re the only deathcore band who’ve done that, but ASP is who I go back to first when I want that kind of fix.

          I’m also proud that we’ve managed to sort of hijack the comments to BadWolf’s original post. 🙂

    • I enjoy deathcore breakdowns too. The new Thy Art Is Murder album is full of them and I love it. Also, Carnifex and Suicide Silence have great breakdowns as well. In particular, the breakdowns in “Hell Chose Me” (Carnifex) and “Unanswered” (Suicide Silence) have stuck in my head ever since I first heard them!

  5. No Domination.
    No Slit Your Guts.


  6. Now that we’ve established that breakdowns are cool outside of deathcore, make an article on tech/death/core breakdowns done classy, haha.

    My recommendations:
    All Shall Perish – just about any song from their first 3 albums will suffice.
    The Faceless – Ancient Covenant
    Wretched – At the First Sign of Rust
    Converge – Dark Horse (technically hardcore I guess, but idc)
    The Zenith Passage – Xenith (or Kaleidoscopic Tendencies, both good)

  7. I prefer the breakdown in Angel of Death to the one in Raining Blood. It comes out of nowhere and bludgeons me every time.

  8. GREAT article, the Dismember breakdown is easily one of the best ever. That shit = instant headbanging.

  9. I didn’t realize how much Hatebreed stole that Entombed breakdown for the beginning of Smash Your Enemies. Same key and everything.

  10. Pestilence-Consuming Impulse: Susepended Animation- 1:42

  11. Well done BadWolf, while I’m no supporter of “breakdowncore” if we want to create another pointless subgenre; it’s important to not act like breakdowns didn’t exist before bands like Carnifex or All Shall Perish.

  12. All I’m saying is if you claim to hate hardcore and its influence on metal, throw away your Autopsy albums! Tear off your Napalm Death patches, that Celtic Frost shirt can go as well! Throw it all away.

  13. I love a good headbang-inducing breakdown. It’s the one power chord chugga-chugga-chugga bullshit that most deathcore bands employ that makes me want to smash their guitars over their head. They’ve got to have more creativity in them than that.

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