The point of this post is not to make metal your new favorite genre. I don't expect you to read this post, shut down your laptop, and then blast some Slipknot while you sacrifice something to the devil, alright? Just chill. The point of this post is to show you that metal is actually a really neat thing. There's so much history behind it, it's actually very interesting. So whether you're a musician or just someone who enjoys music, if you hate metal take a minute to read this. I'll blow your mind and you'll end up walking away with a greater respect for this genre. If not, I'm a metalhead so watch your back.
I’ve met lots of metal fans who are also very much into classical music. For years I’ve tried to understand why that is. Why metal and classical? At surface level the two seem completely different - in fact they seem polar opposite. So why is it that many metal fans out there (myself included), also have an interest in classical music?
I believe the reason is actually more philosophical and more scientific than we realize.
"Baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused, and loaded with modulations and dissonances. The singing is harsh and unnatural, the intonation difficult, and the movement limited. It appears that term comes from the word 'baroco' used by logicians." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau gives us a glimpse to music of the time leading up to the Baroque era. It’s clear that if he wasn’t a fan of Baroque music, some changes must’ve been made - and indeed there were many. Why am I bringing up the Baroque era? Well, it was quite the revolutionary time. Not only for music but for science, art, and philosophy as well. Many new discoveries were being made and overall, the people of the Baroque era were undergoing huge paradigm shifts. Some of the most groundbreaking thinkers and artists (Isaac Newton, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jane Austen to name a few) were changing the world one idea at a time.
But let's go back to the music. There are some musical changes that are worth noting when comparing to metal. First I need to explain that before the Baroque era, it was very uncommon to hear instrumental music. It was usually only heard if there was technical purpose for it. (In the background during a dance performance is a great example.) Once the Baroque era arrived, instrumental music gained popularity and started to become it's own unique genre.
As instrumental music was evolving, so too were the instruments themselves. There was now a demand for louder and stronger tone in instruments. (Sound like metal?) The viola was replaced by the violin, the oboe replaced softer woodwind instruments, and the piano went through many changes to become louder and more expressive. Music was becoming something more than hymns for church on Sunday, people began to experiment with it.
As experimentation was happening, there was an idea to combine music with feelings and words. They added more drama, more emotions. (This is when opera came along and we all know how dramatic opera is.) In music theory alone there was a dramatic shift going from modality to tonality. Tonality is the method we most commonly use today in western culture. Modality was all anyone knew before the Baroque era, however, it isn't uncommon for metal musicians to use this same method.
Recently, I came across one particular metal song in which I noticed some very technical elements and it caught my attention. I showed my music mentor and asked him to share his thoughts on it: "In the Baroque era composers such as Bach and Handel would effect 'chords' on single note instruments such as the cello by arpeggiating or writing fast scales that, when played fast enough, would outline the actual chords themselves to the listener's ear."
That's a fancy way of saying that Bach and Handel were badass.
They managed to find a way to play notes fast enough to resemble chords, and we do the same thing in metal all of the time. Not only that, but classical composers often changed the speed or tempo of a song to add emotion. I challenge you to try and find a pop song, hip hop song, or even alternative rock song that does that. Chances are, you probably won't be able to find one. (Even if you do, it will probably take you a long time and it's most likely not a good song anyway.) But you won't have a hard time finding that connection in metal.
Alright, that's enough history for today kids. Personally, I find all of this information quite fascinating. If you want to hear examples where you can clearly hear the classical influence on metal music, I recommend these:
1) Angels Don't Kill - Children of Bodom
2) Welcome Home - Coheed and Cambria
3) Falling On Deaf Ears - Hail the Sun
I hope you've enjoyed learning about this as much as I did. It's these kind of discoveries that get me out of bed in the morning and it's one of the main reasons that I love to learn. There's countless treasures like this to find and usually they're right in front of our faces.