(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!