Jun 252013

(This is the second in a series of guest posts by NCS supporter Utmu in which he poses questions and seeks answers.  Here, he hopes for answers that can become the foundation for a scholastic endeavor. Let’s not disappoint him. Put your thinking caps on!)

So, as you may remember, in the first installment of Reflections in the Void I told you about the essay(s) that I have to write for Composition, and I stated that I was focusing on a metal-related topic. At least one of the ideas I’m presenting in my essays will be somewhat complex and certainly controversial.

When answering the following questions it will be important to remember that some bands’ styles could be described as original and progressive, perhaps even genre-defining or groundbreaking (although this is a largely subjective judgment).

Other bands modify those sounds, and conversely others adhere strictly to those predefined genres whether or not they were a part of the original movements. Although they sound similar, Municipal Waste and D.R.I. were formed nearly two decades apart. Even these types of bands could be considered entities that have brought something new to the table, subjectively speaking. How you react to a band is dependent upon your experience as a listener (and perhaps as a writer and/or player) of music.

It is also important to remember that certain groups may mix and match styles within heavy metal. Still others even combine metal with external genres such as jazz, classical, folk, electronic, et cetera, ad nauseum.

Please, please, please, if you don’t normally comment, please take the time out of your day to do that this time! With a larger body of information to which you can contrbute, I will be more capable of expressing the thoughts of the metal community in a clearer and more complete way. Oh, and please include an approximation of how long you’ve been listening to metal, and if you would, give me a few examples of what bands were in your inaugural metal playlist.


  • Can we consider the restructuring of music to be new music?
    • If not, why do we choose to restructure music rather than make new* music?
  • Is heavy metal stagnating? Is there a lack of originality?
    • If so, can we say that heavy metal is dead?
    • Which movements brought stagnation and/or innovation?
    • When do you think heavy metal started stagnating (if you do think this)?
  • Can we make new* heavy metal music?
    • If so, how?

*When I say “new” in these instances, I’m using that in a pure context. Not a modification of an existing style or a fusion of styles. I mean something new, as in death metal-circa-1987-new.


  1. I suppose it depends on what you have in mind when you use the word “restructuring”. In one sense, all metal is a restructuring of other music that preceded it. To take early death metal as an example, the pioneers in that genre were “restructuring” thrash and punk, adding to and transforming elements that already existed. Thrash itself seems to have been, at least in part, an evolution from NWOBHM and hardcore punk, among other influences. And of course, the result was something very original. To take a more recent example, metalcore could be thought of as a restructuring, combining elements of hardcore and Gothenberg-style melodic death metal. But that also produced something new and original.

    Where “restructuring” consists of little more than sticking things together, in a way that doesn’t produce anything more than the obvious sum of its parts, then maybe it’s fair to say that the result isn’t “original” or innovative. But I can’t think of a clean line to draw between restructuring that produces something original and restructuring that doesn’t.

    And for the record, heavy metal definitely is NOT stagnating. I ought to try to justify that statement . . . but I’ll have to come back later to do that.

    • When I say restructuring, I speak of new bands playing old styles; the bands that came before have done so much already and have written definitive riffs, etc. and it would be difficult for say, Municipal Waste to write anything that simply isn’t a restructuring of a song that was released before they were formed.

      • So by restructuring you mean “rehash”. 🙂

        I don’t know if I would use the word “restructuring” when all a band is doing is writing new songs in an old style to which they’ve really added nothing new musically. There are, of course, a lot of “old school” revivals going on, “re-thrash” being one of them. Old-school death metal (particularly in the Swedish vein) has also been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. Re-thrash does nothing for me, but that’s because I’ve never been an avid fan of old-school thrash. However, I love a lot of the new old-school death metal bands (oxymoron?), because even though they’re really not changing the original style, I just happen to like the style so much that new songs, done well, are welcome. But I’ve read comments on this very site by people whose attitude is, if a band is doing nothing but mimicking a style originated by other bands, why not just listen to the old gods?

        • I was actually trying to avoid that word, because at least in my mind, it comes with a negative connotation that tends to devalue the music of the latter artist. But I guess it’s applicable depending on how you see things.

  2. “Can we consider the restructuring of music to be new music?”

    Of course we can. If there is anything new, ever, it is only that which is restructured. Nothing is really new under the sun, and speaking of “Under the Sun,” even Black Sabbath was just a restructuring of blues. There’s a famous quote out there from some composer or other (can’t recall which one, maybe Stravinsky) where he was confronted with an accusation that he stole parts from someone else. He replied that, of course he did. Why not?

    “Is heavy metal stagnating? Is there a lack of originality?”

    No. Quite the opposite. You look at what Panopticon and Menace Ruine did last year, or SubRosa and Ulcerate the year before, as just a few examples. It’s as vibrant as ever, helped along by the rapid evolution that the current age of the Internet enables. But obviously it always has bands who are making music that is the product of their own stagnation.

    “Which movements brought stagnation and/or innovation?”

    That’s the first really tough question. Almost every new movement has brought about equal measures of both. Take black metal for example. When it began, it was nothing but innovation. As time has gone on, you’ve had divergent paths leading to “pure” (i.e., stagnant) black metal and complete aberrations (Ludicra, Deafheaven, and Sigh, for instance). There are also movements that have provoked a response. When grunge rose to prominence and one of the most beloved metal bands of the time went mainstream (1991), you could see the reaction of a return to form for some. Thrash metal bands either followed Metallica or went back to basics, and almost without exception they all stagnated. Many death metal bands doubled-down on what they were already doing, but you also saw departures beginning with Death, Cynic, and Atheist.

    “When do you think heavy metal started stagnating (if you do think this)?”

    That goes in cycles, but someone always reacts to stagnation and mixes things up. What rises to the top in the more mainstream circles is almost assuredly stagnant, but if you look beneath the surface you will find better.

    “Can we make new* heavy metal music?
    If so, how?”

    I think I’ve already answered that.

  3. 1. As long as the bands “restructure” the music and simultaneously add their own signature and comprehension of the music, I’d say it’s new music. To me, it’s all a matter of conviction. A lot of bands tend to get the NWOBHM sound back because they’re hedonists, that doesn’t make them some cheap bands unable to produce their own sound. Restructuration is, and will probably always be, an entire part of musical composition. Death is innovative, no one would deny it, but in the end, the musical elements they use are very similar to thrash metal ones.

    2. I don’t think metal is stagnating. We’re in a “retro-cumulative” period, where elements with very diverse origins are analyzed and put together in a very fresh approach, creating many and many new hybrids and new sounds. Every single metal movement is able to bring some very innovative transformation, and since metal is organised around individuality, personal achievement, and technical improvement, there will be, at least for some decades, an unabandoned will for creation, even if this creation is only a redigestion of existing elements.

    3. People do it all the time.

  4. All music, since the invention of music, has been putting the save notes in a different order, with different orchestration/arrangement, etc. Nothing is ever REALLY new. You mention the inception of death metal, but that was just building on other genres that already existed, combining them or taking them to another level in certain variables. Just as the invention of heavy metal itself; the beginning of rock music; the transitions between baroque, classical, romantic, etc., styles.

    Having said that, I think music (in general) is an ever-changing, expanding, cycling thing. It has undergone numerous periods of stagnation, but then some new innovation, or at least a new way of thinking or arranging stuff, comes along. Then more copy cats, more stagnation, more innovation. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    I apologize if this repeats what someone else has already said, but I’m responding before reading any comments, to ensure these are entirely my own thoughts.

    For context: I’ve been listening to metal, in some fashion, for over thirty years. First, via my parents and/or radio, i.e. Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath, etc.; later (around 21-22 yrs ago) I discovered Faith No More, Overkill, and Anthrax. Never looked back since.

  5. If you want to get really technical, there have been very few truly “new” concepts in any form of music since the days of chant and tribal drumming. Theory-wise, every scale and mode and groove has probably (definitely) been played somewhere before. Most other defining characteristics of genres and sub-genres of metal had been around before (heavy distortion, palm muting, harsh vocals), so I guess for a new sub-genre to be identified it has to be a combination of and/or focus on certain techniques.
    I would say metal isn’t really stagnating, but perhaps the extra-musical (superficial) aspects are losing their impact; things like corpse-paint and running themes (gags) like “being metal”. I think a lot of bands are struggling to find identity and separate themselves from other bands, so they focus on the superficial things like being “brutal” or “epic” and they forget to just write good music. So I suppose there is a sense of stagnation, but only if you focus on the imitators and those bands who are just in it for the party (and they’ll jump ship to rock n’ roll when the party’s over).
    There have been some fresh sounding bands in recent times: suffocating metalcore like Ion Dissonance, the End (who eventually put out a “post”-metalcore album which is amazing), or the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza; there’s that type of metal that walks the line between “revivalist/old-school” metal and sludge like Corrosion of Conformity, Down, and High on Fire where they make you second guess what old-school metal “should” sound like; Voivod’s most recent album sounds pretty fresh and throws me for a loop, and the ones they put out before that (Voivod, Katorz) were almost like revivalist records (but REALLY unique); the song Gorguts just put out blew me away; that band Fields of Elysium is pretty crazy; there’s the band Judgment Day who describe themselves as “string metal”…
    I would say it would take something totally crazy to really wow the metal “community” these days, but it’s a thin line and if something truly original popped up it would probably just be denounced as “not metal” or “hipster bullshit”. However, that is a different discussion in itself, and I’m actually content with the progress we’re currently experiencing within the metal underground (however slow and niche-oriented it may be).

    A little background about my metal listening: I guess the first metal band I listened to regularly was Led Zeppelin, although I used to consider it just plain old rock n’ roll and I somewhat understand people’s hesitance to call them metal. My mom bought me their greatest hits album when I was in middle school, so roughly about 10 or 11 years ago. Then I got into Deftones, Tool, Metallica, Shadows Fall, Hatebreed, Mudvayne, Pantera (some thanks to my older brother)… I guess the underground really caught my ear in high school with Clutch, Candiria, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Strapping Young Lad, the Red Chord, Every Time I Die, Cryptopsy, Morbid Angel, Yakuza, Suffocation, GWAR, Into Eternity, Zeni Geva, the Number 12 Looks Like You, Emperor, Finntroll, C.O.C., Down, Soilent Green, Crowbar, Burnt by the Sun, the Chariot… I guess these are a few of the bands that really shaped my tastes and interests in heavy music.

  6. 1. Art, and therefore music, is decided, sadly enough, by its presentation. For evidence see Merzbow. Does he compose? Eh probably not. he hit play on every song on a record at once and called it music, but by him PRESENTING his noise experiments as music, he creates that space for it to be art. Just as in fairytales–speak the word and you can control it. Say it is art and, like god, you make it so.

    2. Heavy metal is not stagnating. THAT SAID I believe the period of explosive growth from approximately 06-10 is probably over. I would attribute that explosion to the rise of blogs, and an in-general acceptance of metal by the mainstream, thus opening the gates for new musicians to enter into the genre. You will note: the metalheads themselves and the musicians within the genre had PRECIOUS little control over that process. Now we are in stasis, and waiting for another big influx of ideas. I thought Djent would be the enxt stage in the booster rocket. I was so, so very wrong.

    3. Of course. Metal has only begun to dabble in the genres it could meld with. In general, I think bands haven’t capitalized on the new ground that guitarists like Paul Masvidal and Mikael Akerfeldt have cleared in terms of non-traditional ways to play the guitar. I think, in the long run, we’re going to recede back from ehaviness (already happening) and then out into other ethnic genres. You want to know who made metal new again?

    Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

    When we get Tango-doom, we’re going to be in sick shape.

  7. I’m not big on heavy metal anymore, even though I started with it, back some 10+ ish years ago, when I was in 7-8th grade in school. I don’t think it’s dying though, not while pretty good albums, like Riding the Void’s last one.

    Is heavy metal stagnating? Is there a lack of originality?

    Well, not just heavy metal. All music is less inventive than it had been two centuries ago when classical classical (read the first word as if it’s written in italics) music has been written, such as Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelungs” for example. It’s .. a natural process of entropy. I hope. We are gonna end up like sad elephants with an eternal memory in that regard, sadly, aren’t we?

    Which movements brought stagnation and/or innovation?

    I’m gonna leave this question for the people that actually have paid attention to things like lyrics in their favorite songs, or what the names of the individual members of their bands are. I’ll just say that each genre should be capable of bringing stagnation and innovation.

    When do you think heavy metal started stagnating (if you do think this)?

    You keep harping on about this heavy metal. Well, it might not be 1991 with Metallica’s Black album, or Maiden’s number of the Beast, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stagnating.

    As for new heavy metal music, mix it with electronics, I’d say. A moderate dose of electronics goes a long way in many styles. See the Monolith deathcult, being the only death metal band I listen to because industrial + electronics here and there = win.

  8. Heavy Metal has survived 43 years of critics claiming that it wouldn’t last. i’m not totally certain why that is, but it still gets me excited and i can’t imagine a day going by without assaulting my hearing with generous doses of the stuff, new and old.
    but in the interest of helping with your essay, here’s my weak attempt at answering your questions:
    – i don’t think we can consider restructuring of music to be new music. but as the old saying goes “if i haven’t heard it before then it’s news to me”, or something like that. new generations get to essentially rehash what’s already been done because it feels fresh to them and sounds fresh to their peers. sure it agitates the hell out of the older generation but when was the last time a group of rowdy teenagers started a band so they could impress people 30-40 years older than themselves?
    -is it stagnating, or is there a lack of originality? well, there must be a cap on the number of original riffs you can come up with on a guitar, but i’m not music-nerdy enough to keep try keeping track. i don’t notice big sweeping changes from year to year, but if i compare what i’m listening to today to what i was listening to 30 years ago, there’s a big difference. who knows what the comparison will be another 30 years from now? and NO, Heavy Metal is not dead. shame on you.
    -can we make “new” heavy metal music? of course, but do we need to? i mean, sure, to the jaded 40-something music nerd it would seem like every tuesday we get hit with a tidal wave or redundancy. but to the 15 year kid buying his/her first metal album with money earned from a part time job, a whole new world has just opened it’s doors and invited them in. why change something this good just because a bunch of old metalheads forgot what it was like to be young?

  9. Can we consider the restructuring of music to be new music?

    I originally read this and thought you meant covers or something, but from you’re replies above you seem to mean more ‘rehash’ styles. I think there still is some validity in the throw-back retro styles coming out these days. When I think of Sylosis, for example, you could say on the one hand they’re taking a very old school thrash approach, but they put such an interesting modern take on it, it’s just fucking awesome. Now, at the other extreme the kind of rehashing of covers which seems to happen a lot in pop music, I think has much less originality (I realize metal bands do lots of covers as well, but they’re rarely the standout single, versus ‘Maneater’, etc.).

    For the second part of this question – why do it – I think part of it is nostalgia. Also, with the increasingly diverse music out there these days, rehashing these old tracks has the odd effect of bringing people together to some extent – by using a shared memory of some old 80’s song or similar to create a common experience afresh.

    Is heavy metal stagnating? Is there a lack of originality?

    Fuck no! In fact, I was trying to explain to someone the other day how metal has essentially evolved to the point of encompassing all other genres – in the sense that there’s jazz-infused metal, symphonic and orchestral metal – and even more ‘movie soundtrack-style’ orchestral metal (I’m thinking e.g. Xerath, Mechina, based around a theme which could be a movie, versus Septic Flesh’s Great Mass, which is a more a traditional album with individual songs). Panopticon just put out a bluegrass-hillbilly metal album, etc., etc, so much cross-over and pollination of ideas from various sources. Obviously I’m not saying that cross-over doesn’t happen in other genres, it’s just that to me other genres are much less varied, more restrained, whereas metal is truly flourishing with all kinds of creativity spreading in different directions.

    Can we make new* heavy metal music?

    Sure can. For the last few years, every year my list of ‘best of’ or favourite albums for the year is more and more filled with bands I’d never heard of at the start of the year. There’s so much good shit coming out, and I’d say it is new, within the limits of what that word can mean when applied to music. Without having to get too philosophical about what “new” is, I think the argument that everything has been done before can be taken too far – you know, like “imagine a new colour, bet you can’t!” and then saying no art can be new because you’re just using colours that already existed, etc.

  10. This discussion pleases me. Here’s my two cents about “new” and “original” versus “derived” or “retro” music:

    Music is art, and art is a very subjective thing. As such, when evaluating the “quality” or “originality” of music you need to carefully examine two things: what is the intent/goal of the producer (in this case, the musician) and what is the expectation/desire of the consumer (in this case, the listener). By failing to really understand those two elements, you fail to put ANYTHING into perspective. Let me elaborate.

    It’s the early 70’s and this young, new band out of England called Black Sabbath is really making waves. They’re playing blues rock, but it’s heavier than what you’ve heard before and they’ve got this occult, kinda playfully “evil” vibe. You like it, but why? Is it the image and culture surrounding the group? Is it the groovy riffs and heavy distortion? Or is it the uncanny ability that they have to take blues and infuse it with an energy and spirit that’s completely fresh and succeed in creating something new and different. What are the musician’s themselves trying to do? I’d say it’s pretty obvious that early-era Black Sabbath was constantly trying to create a unique sound and push the boundaries of what they were doing. But it wasn’t “good, old blues”, so a lot of older people didn’t like it.

    Now, 40 years later, it’s 2010 and some young dudes in Chicago who grew up listening their dad’s old Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Sabbath LPs decide they’re going to form a band. They all really love that early “proto-metal” kind of stuff, so the music they create is a natural outpouring of that. They’re all really talented musicians and they write some really tight music, but it’s mostly just rehashing the musical ideas that Iommi, Page, Blackmore, etc. invented. But that’s what they want to make, and they record an album and with the help of some blogs and their Facebook page they get some fans. You find out about these guys and you really dig it. It’s a fresh take on the ol’ classics. Nothing terribly original, but these guys obviously love grooving with one another and they’ve laid down some killer tracks that are tastefully retro and quite a great tribute to the classics. You enthusiastically show it to your friend and he hates it, “If I wanted to listen to Sabbath I’ll go listen to Sabbath. I don’t see why bands even exist if they don’t try to do something original. What’s the point?” He goes on to try to convince you to listen to this “awesome black metal band from Portugal that uses a baritone saxophone instead of bass guitar…how cool is that!?” You listen to it and it sounds boring as hell.

    In my opinion, the friend has completely missed the point. In his fervor to find the latest and greatest weird new stuff, he’s refusing to acknowledge (and benefit from the enjoyment of) a band that isn’t trying to be super original. If an artist is TRYING to be original, but ends up making generic drivel then, by all means, criticize them for it. But why crucify a band for being “unoriginal” if they’re not necessarily trying to write the next “Dark Side of the Moon”? By the same token, progress just for the sake of progress isn’t always a good thing. I don’t care how many disparate musical genres you claim to be influenced by, or if you’re the first person to put a bass clarinet solo in the middle of a thrash metal song, if it’s boring and uninteresting to listen to.

    So in conclusion, pay attention to WHY you like or dislike particular music. It’s ok to dislike music for not being “original”. It’s ok to like music that is “derived”. But it’s not ok to accuse a musician of being something they’re not. Understand what the music is giving you, and understand what you want from it.

    • And no, metal is absolutely not stagnating. Taking musical ideas and reshaping into something new is how music is made. I’d challenge you to find any musical ideas that you can’t trace back to something that came before it. For point of reference, I started seriously listening to metal about 7 years ago. I grew up with my dad’s old Journey LPs and my older brother listening to mainstream rock radio, so I’ve always liked rock music. I was always drawn to heavier music like Metallica, but it wasn’t until a friend showed me Dream Theater when I was a sophomore in high school that I really got into metal. Dream Theater was my first band, but then I got into Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, eventually melodic death like Children of Bodom and Wintersun…at which point the world of extreme metal opened it gates and I went in headfirst. My favorite bands are probably Opeth & Agalloch, but I’m constantly exploring new stuff from old classics to obscure black metal (as well as stuff outside the realm of metal, of course!).

  11. I’m mostly just repeating previous posts here, but I might have something distinct to add here and there. I do not think that restructuring or rehashing, however we wish to put it, could be considered anything but new. Let’s look at rethrash for a second: despite claims that it is dead (could thrash ever truely die?) some new bands with their own sound have come of it. Evile, while not creating groundbreaking music are good and have a distinct sound. They are clearly making new music, they just put their sonic base in things that have come before.

    Heavy metal is not a stagnant art. It is constantly growing, going through phases, and adding new sounds. Djent didn’t exist at all just a few years ago, and now it is its own sub-genre. Now, in some cases I feel the genre is degenerating, stuff like I Wrestled a Bear Once and 12 Foot Ninja (or whatever their name is) are examples of a terrible direction in metal in my own opinion. However, they are part the genre’s evolution and continuity.

    I would say that new metal is made every day. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or completely distinct from what went before it to be new. How to make it: Pick up an instrument and jam with some friends until something happens. When I did in depth interviews with 10 metal heads, 8 played an instrument. There is a lot of creative potential energy to go around.

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