Jun 092015


(Andy Synn presents a rare thing — an actual calm, reasoned, fairly objective discussion of Djent, and (surprisingly) a defense of sorts.)

Oh the dreaded “DJ-word”. Never has a genre risen, seemingly from out of nowhere, to such prominence so quickly. And perhaps never before has a genre gotten so over-saturated and over-exposed in such quick succession.

And it’s because of this (and perhaps a few other issues that I may, or may not, touch on in this column) that the merest mention of the word can reduce even the sanest Metalhead to a frothing ball of apoplectic fury. “It’s all the same!”, “It’s just nu-metal with fancier gear!”, “It’s not even a real genre!” are all things I’ve heard multiple times, spilling from the mouths (and fingers) of everyone from the angriest internet troll to the most elitist critic.

But rather than just brush all these protests and allegations aside, I thought I might try to actually engage with them for once, and look at not just what’s being said, but why it’s being said in the first place.


Now, in the same way that Mötorhead once coined the onomatopoeia “kerrang” to describe the Heavy Metal guitar sound, the rubbery skwonk of the now-ubiquitous “djent” guitar tone serves to describe a major aspect of the genre itself, one that remains perhaps its key identifier, yet also its key sticking point (as well as a key draw) for many people.

For me it seems at least a tad problematic having so many bands share such an identikit, ‘off-the-rack’ guitar sound, as it largely does away with the traditional notion of different bands (even within the same genre/sub-genre) having their own particular signature tone.

Now, granted, other genres have, in the past, suffered from the same problem — from the chainsaw buzz of the Stockholm guitar sound, to the venomous hiss of the early “necro” Black Metal scene, to the over-used (and abused) “scooped” mids of the post-Pantera set – but few have so intimately identified the very essence of their genre with such a specific, and unvarying, guitar tone.

Indeed, for a genre so closely associated with expensive, high-end gear and the use of effects, it’s puzzling to hear so little variety in the actual guitar tones used, as well as the same twinkly, spacey embellishments cropping up again and again.

So, in that sense, I suppose there’s certainly an argument to be made that it does “all sound the same!”

Or does it?



If we segue here into the second of the common allegations I mentioned above – the one about Djent essentially just being Nu-Metal in fancier clothing – we can see that while, yes, a good proportion of Djent as a genre is similarly based on low-tuned grooves a la Nu-Metal, along with an unfortunate preponderance of frontmen keen to over-emote all over the place in high-strung and melodramatic fashion, this is far from a complete picture of the genre. In fact this quite limited view of the Djent scene exposes a fairly familiar problem, one which also afflicted Nu-Metal before it:

The problem that, to a certain extent, there’s no clear definition of what Djent actually “is”. And a lot of people, most notably those extremely critical of the genre, seem to operate under a mandate of: “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I hear it.”

It doesn’t help, of course, that the term has become something of a  knee-jerk pejorative (again, much like “Nu-Metal” was), such that so many bands refuse to accept the term as applying to them, instead throwing around random variants on the words “Progressive”, “Post”, “Tech”, and “Groove” in an attempt to escape the stigma attached to it.

In fact many of the style’s most well-known luminaries aren’t much help either, with even the Gear God himself, Misha Mansoor, stating that:

I don’t think people know what djent is… it’s just so vague that I don’t know what to make of it.



Just think about it for a second with me. Yes, there’s a general, amorphous idea of “Djent”, in an abstract sense, that we all kind of get. And usually your mind will go straight to the big names, Tesseract, Periphery (and their legions of shameless imitators) as soon as you hear the term – with perhaps a passing thought for the genre’s supposed precursors in Sikth and Meshuggah – but it’s easy enough to argue, even for someone like myself who isn’t the biggest fan of the style, that there’s much, much more to it than just that.

The way it often seems to be used these days (often in a derisory fashion), Djent has largely become a catch-all term for anything that displays more than a hint of a Meshuggah influence, most frequently in terms of the guitar tone used and in the incorporation of chuggy polyrhythms (note to bands – using simple polyrhythms doesn’t make you “Progressive”. They’re not that hard. Doing something creative with it… that’s hard.).

But… the bands that so often fall under this umbrella, actually display far more variety than you might think. They DON’T all sound the same. It’s just that a lot of the bands within specific niches in the genre tend to share a lot of common features, and this similarity tends to get exaggerated in the booming wind-tunnel that is the inter web.



Now, love them or loathe them, I feel like it’s disingenuous to have any remaining doubt that, at their core, Meshuggah are a Death Metal band (the frantic, Thrash-tastic song featured above being one great example of this). Regardless of the imitators and impersonators trying to water down their style for mass consumption, the Swedish quintet are Metal to the core, and when they hit you live with their full force… they’re a Death Metal band alright, make no mistake about it.

By contrast, several of the Djent genre’s biggest acts… aren’t really very Metal when you get right down to it. And that’s not a criticism in itself (though you can interpret it as one if you like). It’s more an attempt to acknowledge one of the (several) reasons why a lot of Metal fans seem to have an instinctive distrust of the genre – they automatically associate the word with a style that seems to rely more on certain trappings of Metal rather than the substance they usually associate with it.

In essence, a good number of Djent bands are much closer to the Post-Hardcore scene than they are the Metal scene. They may have some low-tuned chugs (courtesy of the latest Axe-FX model), and some simplified polyrhythmic drum patterns, and may even display some flashy fretwork (bear in mind that the genre started, in many ways, as the product of bedroom guitarists and gear-heads), but the core, the foundation of their sound, isn’t quite the same as that of their main influences. And I think it’s this that gets so many people’s hackles up. A sense of not belonging. A sense that certain elements of “our” genre are being co-opted and watered down.

And though there’s certainly some merit to that, just as much as there is hyperbole, that doesn’t intrinsically make it bad music. Personally I am a huge fan of Thrice, and can hear a lot of their influence in several of the better bands lumped in with the Djent scene.



Still, it must be said that the style HAS become an easy (and rather superficial) “go-to” for bands looking to beef up their sound and play at some sort of heaviness, without having much of a “feel” for it.

But… whether you consider this type of band to be “play-acting” or not (personally I think that’s a very sweeping statement, and one that, at the very least, should be considered on a case-by-case basis), it also doesn’t sum up the entirety of the genre as a whole, as there are a surprising number of variants on the style in existence, if you can get past lumping them all in together due to shared similarities in guitar tone.

You’ll find that there are acts under the Djent umbrella who base their sound in a host of different genres… there’s Progressive variants, Post-Metal variants, Deathcore and Death Metal types, Hardcore, Metalcore… yes they often share some of the same stylistic features (albeit in different proportions) and yes, the least inspired of the bunch usually all end up sounding exactly the same (I’m looking rather pointedly at the whole “Sumeriancore” sub-scene right now)… but the better bands, the bands with a clear identity and vision of their own, have been slowly but surely helping to stretch the (admittedly rather restrictive) boundaries of the style.




On top of all this, as the genre has begun to establish itself, shedding some of the dross and allowing the cream to rise to the top, its influence has (arguably) begun to have a positive effect on a number of other styles.

In fact, one need only look towards the (similarly much-maligned) Deathcore genre to see an instance where the burgeoning Djent influence has actually had positive, rather than negative, repercussions. The simple fact that both styles possess such tightly prohibitive restrictions on what is/isn’t allowed actually means that the melding of the two styles – which blend together extremely naturally when done correctly — opens up extra avenues to explore, almost by default.

Whitechapel’s self-titled for example really benefits from a slight touch of that predatory mechanical tone popularised by Meshuggah (though I feel like they went overboard with it a bit on the follow-up, Our Endless War), while Impending Doom took that low, sub-dimensional tone and used it to add a whole new layer of heavy to their sound.

Obviously it’s not a magic cure-all for bad song-writing and a lack of artistic talent (Emmure will always be bad nu-metal masquerading as something heavier by hiding behind their down-tuned skwonky beatdowns), but it does illuminate one very clear instance where that Meshuggah influence has been a real positive.



And this extends even further as well.

You only have to look at bands like Decapitated, Gojira, Byzantine, Darkane, Living Sacrifice… all favourites of this site, and all bands who’ve admitted to having a marked Meshuggah influence (in some cases LONG before it became cool), or to proto-Djent bands like Sikth, Benea Reach, and Ion Dissonance (all of whom have had a marked influence on the genre’s formation long before the “dj” term was ever uttered) to see that, in actuality, many of the stylistic markers and elements that it incorporates have been around for a long time!

I mean, OF COURSE, if your only exposure to the genre is the poppiest and most derivative bands – the ones who sell sufficient albums/tshirts/ad-space (until, of course, they don’t, and are replaced by the next interchangeable band waiting in the wings for their “shot”) — you’re going to hate it. I don’t blame you for that. But you have to be careful to draw a line between hating something that becomes popular because it’s purposefully and shamelessly chasing mass-appeal status, and hating something just because it’s become popular. It’s a winnowing process, separating the wheat from the chaff. It just so happens that, in the Djent scene in particular, there’s a heck of a lot of chaff to sort through.

Though, in a sense, precisely because 99% of the bands seem interchangeable (at least from the outside), it often makes it easier, if you’re willing to invest the time, to pinpoint the bands who really bring something interesting and unique to the table.



So… now we come to the final allegation… is it even “a real genre”?

Well, avoiding the issues of semantics (what exactly is a “real” genre anyway?), I’m going to stick my neck out and say… yes. Of course it is. Most definitely. And while personally I remain someone reticent to declare myself a fan of the style, I’m more than open to changing my opinion on that.

As a reviewer and as a member of the music scene myself, I find that a lot of the bands I tend to encounter who come under the “Djent” category are, when it all comes down to it, little more than 6th generation Metalcore acts with flashier gear and a more polished sound (often to the point of nauseating blandness), or shameless doppelgangers of already established acts.

However I acknowledge that, like most genres, though these sorts of bands may appear to make up the majority of the scene, that doesn’t make them the entirety of it. I may not be a fan of it, per se, but I’m not going to try to deny its existence and its legitimacy. Indeed, I think it has enough distinct stylistic markers and identifying features these days to more than stand on its own, and also lends itself well to a wealth of cross-overs with other, complementary genres and styles.

Ultimately though, like any style of music, it pays to delve a little deeper than just what you might encounter on the surface. Superficial impressions are rarely the best (as Metal fans, we should know this more than most!).

Fittingly, I’m going to leave the last words to Djent divinity Tosin Abasi, who you might know from a little band called Animals As Leaders, but whom I’ll always remember from his time in chaotic proto-Djent scrappers Reflux:

“I guess it’s a legitimate genre… because if you can isolate, like, 3, 4, 5, qualities in a genre of music, and it’s consistent in every artist who’s playing in that genre, then I feel like you CAN call it a genre. So Djent to me IS a genre, because you can really isolate what makes something *Djent*”


  23 Responses to “DJENT OR DJENRE”

  1. Great read, Andy!
    I love Whitechapel, by the way.

  2. “You only have to look at bands like Decapitated, Gojira, Byzantine, Darkane, Living Sacrifice… all favourites of this site”

    Wanna bet? 🙂

  3. Great piece Andy. I agree with all your points. Coincidentally, I’ve been jamming Reflux a lot lately.

    • I love that album. In hindsight it is scrappy as fuck, and the clean vocals, while minimal, are certainly an… acquired taste.

      But it IS very unique, and has a loose, improv-y feel that I like a lot.

  4. I’m a big djent fan. I’m very much a prog metal and death-doom guy, and I’ve been able to find plenty of djent bands that suit my tastes. Is there a lot of shit in the djent scene? Of course there is, but that’s the same as any other scene or genre. Djent Is not unique in that respect. Anyway some of my fav djent bands:

    Uneven Structure



    Ever Forthright


    The Contortionist


    Last chance to Reason

    The Safety Fire

    In terms of proto djent I think you missed a big one in Textures, they are right up there with Meshuggah and Sikth.

    • I believe I actually explicitly stated that Djent was not unique in that, like pretty much all scenes, it’s a bell curve… with the really good, unique stuff in the minority at the upper end of the scale, the truly god awful stuff in a similar minority at the other end, and a big middle ground filled with a glut of (relatively) similar artists, who vary in quality (objectively/subjectively).

      Or, at least, I hope I did. I’m sure some stuff was probably lost in editing/cutting the piece down.

      And Textures were in there at one point, to be honest, as were Mnemic, but ended up getting cut because I didn’t want it just to be a list of “Here’s some great bands” because I find that runs the risk of overshadowing the larger point. People see enough names and they interpret it as “this opinion is correct, because I have cited lots of names”, whereas I would rather write some longer paragraphs and try and avoid that sort of thing. If that makes sense?

      Of the various bands you’ve listed I definitely agree that Uneven Structure have that “X” factor that makes them stand out. I think it’s probably because their proggy, ambient parts sound a lot deeper than most of their contemporaries. Whereas I find Cyclamen to be intensely boring and navel-gazing.

      Vildhjarta I purposefully left out, because I actually think they’re incredibly boring. They’ve got that “we’re really heavy” thing going on, but it seems really superficial to my ears. It’s “heaviness” because they’ve tuned down and got a guy to do low growls… just seems lacking in substance, particularly when stacked up next to Meshuggah themselves (who, unfortunately, a lot of their parts echo far too closely for my liking).

      The Contortionist are great because they’re a very textured Prog band these days… who just happen to share certain tonal similarities (and, pleasingly enough, tend to avoid the identikit bouncy twang that a lot of these entries have in common), and the same for Disperse, who are really just a great Prog Rock band (and have some great, emotive solo-work, which sets them apart from the bedroom-flash of a lot of their peers).

      And The Safety Fire… I know they’re everyone’s darlings at the moment, but god do they leave me cold. They just seem massively less than the sum of their parts. A very competent, very generic band, who tick all the right boxes and play a bit of a “jack of all trades”, blandly acceptable version of the style. They’re actually precisely the sort of example I was avoiding using because I think they epitomise the sort of… wishy-washy style of music that a lot of people think of when they hear “Djent”, and I was really trying to stay away from that.

      I hope you don’t think I’ve been overly negative here (obviously you like some bands, I like some bands… sometimes we like the same bands and sometimes we don’t!) as I do appreciate that you took time to come and comment and add some thoughts and some links to the post!

      • Thanks for the reply Andy. You definitely got across the idea that djent has both its share of good and bad bands, I was just adding my own comment on that. Was a great piece and I enjoyed reading it.

        On the Safety Fire I don’t really think they are the kind of band that people think of when they think of djent, at least not in the negative sense. I don’t know, I’ve always found the people who are really critical of djent think of the sumeriancore stereotype more than anything else.

        • The Safety Fire left me a bit cold, too, until I saw them live. On stage, the music simply caught fire. It became clear that the band’s sound is really a bit different – much like their tour mates, Protest the Hero. There was an attitude under it all, this sharp-edged sound I expect more from punk than metal. Something clicked in that moment, and now I enjoy them a lot more.

          • Often my simplest complaint about “Djent” as a movement (though, obviously, this doesn’t apply to EVERY band… just a lot of them) is that they seem to take influence from two of my favourite bands – Meshuggah and Protest The Hero, both of whom are incredibly distinctive, unique, and inventive… and SOMEHOW manage to make the resultant mash-up incredibly bland. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Why bother taking influence from those sorts of artists at all, if your end goal is to dumb it down for mass appeal?

            Though I suppose that feeds into/out of my earlier comment about the genre turning in upon itself quickly. It DOES seem (though this can probably only be held up as anecdotal evidence) that successive generations of bands (which seem to be cycling at a rate much higher than in other genres) are only looking to their most immediate predecessors for inspiration – hence the rapid rate of inbreeding and the limiting of the gene pool.

    • I’m curious; why did you throw Last Chance to Reason on there? I loved Level 2, but I didn’t think 2 or 3 was really djenty in any way. And I don’t think new Contortionist is particularly djentastic either.

  5. This whole djent thing never really gripped me. I tried, though. Just too often it’s a bit off, be it vocals that burn through my patience at light speed, or every section of instrumental virtuosity lasting slightly too long. But it’s definitely a genre, and a valid one at that. Just not it for me.

    As a side remark, this:

    “If we segue here into the second of the common allegations I mentioned above – the one about Djent essentially just being Nu-Metal in fancier clothing – we can see that while, yes, a good proportion of Djent as a genre is similarly based on low-tuned grooves a la Nu-Metal, along with an unfortunate preponderance of frontmen keen to over-emote all over the place in high-strung and melodramatic fashion, this is far from a complete picture of the genre.”

    stands out as one of the most impeccably composed sentences I read in a while. Always a pleasure to read your prose, Andy! Periods are just overrated.

    • Ha, thank you. I’m attempting to break the world record for “longest coherent sentence”. It’s harder than you think.

  6. “…at their core, Meshuggah are a Death Metal band.”



  7. Djent was my gateway into progressive metal, so the genre definitely has my respect. Very good read, Andy. Missed reading your aid since TNOTB went away.

    • Ah, TNOTB. I didn’t always agree with what was written there… but to their credit they were always more than willing to entertain a dissenting opinion now and then. We made sure to pick their carcass clean though, don’t you worry.

  8. This article had about as much substance as djent. Couldn’t make it halfway without my eyes glazing over at the numerous “no it isn’t” and “not all X are Y” platitudes pious favored by polititians and SJWs.

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