Genre Analysis

Hey children! I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, but, uh… Well here’s something new! It’s not the finalized version, and that’s because the version with video clips keeps getting pulled down for copyright reasons.
What is it you ask?
A Master’s Guide to Making Love.
Okay, that’s a lie. It’s a musical genre analysis on metalcore. It’s highly educational, there’s a picture of a knight riding a motorcycle and lots of good music.
Some say I even give a nod to a certain metal TV show…


I’m going to assume that someone was dense enough to actually press the play button and is listening to this, so allow me to start off by saying hello, I am Brian, and this is an analysis on the genre known as metalcore. The inception of metalcore can be traced back to over two decades ago, so I’d like to narrow it down and talk more specifically about the latest wave that has risen to eminence in the time between the turn of the century and now.

I’m sure that the very mentioning of a metal based genre has already got those of you with negative preconceptions about metal feeling a little antsy, maybe you’ve already tuned out. If you’re still listening, let me tell you that you need not worry; I’m not a death metal fan, I’m not going to tell you that the only good music is metal, I don’t hate puppies and I don’t smell like a smoky-onion. And that right there, the lack of self-bestowed elitism, the absence of the hateful nature that has come to be associated with metal over the years, is actually a defining feature of this latest wave; it’s not driven by anger and spite. Not entirely at least. It’s a more grown-up metal in that sense, one that aims to broaden its appeal beyond the angry white adolescent males who have become the face of metal. It’s not focused on spouting anti-religious sentiments or killing your neighbor’s dog to please pagan gods; it’s focused on being more inclusive and returning metal to its halcyon days by introducing people to more palatable and down-to-earth themes. It’s less of this…

(Dethklok, “Murmaider” clip)

And more of this…

(Metalcore band clip with smoother vocals and punchy riffs, Shadows Fall “Redemption”).

Now some of you may hold the belief that metalcore is a “light” metal, and that it is closely tied to the post-hardcore and emo genres. Well, I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong. I could say something clever, bring up a World War II reference, but that would only distract from how wrong you actually are. Metalcore can trace its heritage back to thrash metal and hardcore punk; hence metalcore. This lineage can be most notably seen in the fused vocal styles which combine the gruff vocals of thrash metal, harsh vocals of hardcore and extreme metal…
(clips from Trivium’s “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind” showcasing all vocals) 41 second mark, keep playing until about 59 seconds, have fade into background, but continue playing silenced…

… And more recently vocals so smooth that they seem to be making sweet love to your ears.
Try melding into slow down segment of song, starting roughly 2 minutes 35 seconds in, cut to fit, have return to normal volume at end of above sentence at about 2:43 fade out about 3:00, keep playing in background.

The purpose of this is to provide a more accessible form of metal; it effectively gives metal bands the ability to communicate as human beings, to sing about more mature topics, and it also gives some exceptionally tasty ear-candy in the process. It also gives metalcore that little extra something that stands out.
The juxtaposition of vocal styles may be off-putting to some, but when you’ve got a song that’s focused on dark aspects of humanity, such as war, the harsh vocals can be used as an extremely potent way for vocalists to express their rage, with the softer vocals then being used to emphasize the sorrow that comes from loss, the regret over bloodshed, etc. And while the thought of a man screaming may seem a little deterring, and in fact can sound rather unsettling at times…

Play short opening vocal screed from“I’ll Go Until My Heart Stops” by 36 Crazy Fists

… it is worth noticing that it takes a lot more thought and effort than the auto-tuning that plagues a strong portion of modern music. I know that won’t be enough to win over hearts though, so I feel it is worth mentioning that there are some metalcore songs that have forsaken screaming outright.

Another interesting feature that can be found in metalcore is the presence of bands that aren’t entirely composed of white males; not entirely new, but you probably weren’t expecting that, were you? One of the most notable bands with a female vocalist would be In This Moment…

Play clip from In This Moment’s “Prayers”

Nice. There is also Trivium, with Japanese born Matt Heafy, though he did grow up in America.

Play clip from Roadrunner United “The End”

And then there are bands such as Killswitch Engage and God Forbid, both touting black vocalists.

Play clip from a God Forbid song

In terms of instruments metalcore relies on the staples of rock; electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. In terms of guitar tuning it’s often lower pitched, with Drop D being highly popular, but tunings will even find their way down around a B flat; not uncommon with metal at all. The guitar riffs will often be palm-muted to create that signature deep tone that has been a part of metal for so long, though it will sometimes be delivered in a loose punk format, relying on quick punchy notes for a catchy tempo.
Play section from Dirge Within’s “Forever the Martyr”

Drums carry over a lot of their metal quirks, especially in the use of multiple bass drums to create a ‘machine gun’ effect, though some drummers are notably more extreme than others: a speed challenge for the guitarists and bassist.

Play opening section of Unearth’s “My Will Be Done”

Another defining feature of metalcore that is often that can be traced back to hardcore is the use of what is called a ‘breakdown.’ A breakdown can be noted by a sudden loss of melody and prior rhythm to be replaced by a burst of crunchy guitar riffs, choppy bass and aggressive drum patterns. The tempo is usually decreased from the chorus, and the purpose is to create a strong aggressive beat that encourages moshing. Sometimes the vocalist will include a repeated line to give those who aren’t moshing a chance to sing along, to create a more enjoyable and open live experience. Breakdowns often make key elements of metalcore stand out even more than usual, especially the heavy use of double bass drums, and palm-muted guitar riffs.
Play section from KSE’s “Into the Arms of Sorrow”

Other bands will use breakdowns to lead into guitar solos, though this tactic is typically only employed by the more progressive and technical bands. To me, this really seems to function as a way to build up tension, essentially whetting the appetite of listeners by letting them know that the song’s hallmark is on approach, ensnaring attention for what is, ideally, a memorable piece of composition.
Breakdown leading into first portion of solo from Trivium’s “A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation” fade song out and allow it to continue in the background.

Guitar solos themselves were largely ignored during the reign of numetal and hard rock, with only a few bands carrying on the tradition, though it was largely relegated to the progressive metal bands and their absurdly long songs. A few bands have effectively revived the guitar solo, making it a largely present trademark of the metalcore bands that more closely align themselves with the metal aspect.

Possibly one of the biggest steps forward for the metal genre that can be seen in modern metal is in fact that theme of songs and the intelligence of lyrics. If I look at some of my favorite classic metal thrash bands, such as Megadeth who had songs about drinking too much and cheating on girlfriends…

(play section from “Wake Up Dead”)

… it seems rather narcissistic and immature, especially because there’s a lack of regret. Don’t get me wrong, I love Megadeth, and I adore Iron Maiden –even though they had songs involving dinosaurs- but these themes can feel a tad embarrassing when compared to modern metal songs, which will display feelings of regret and longing over dysfunctional relationships, or use Greek mythology as a symbolic vehicle to discuss the struggles people encounter in life. It is worth noting that these modern metal songs are largely different from “emo”songs, as they typically lack the usual sense of being a victim and emphasize moving on, and the songs often carry traces of power ballads in their structure, with long high-pitch notes being a favorite object of the guitarists. Though, in all fairness, there are some bands who seem too wander dangerously close to emo territory, though this is possibly done in an attempt to gain a larger female and teen following…
Play section from “Tears Don’t Fall”

And at the risk of sounding elitist, I’d contest that as far as lyrics go, the new wave of metal is head and shoulders above the average pop rock song. Though this could actually be something that holds the genre back, as there are those who merely look at music as a form of fun instead of an art form. I mean, there are some metalcore songs out there that really are fun to listen to, but some of the songs can even be down-right depressing. If you’re having a good day, with the sun out and the birds chirping, which song are you realistically going to reach for; the one that’s about losing the love of your life, or the one about how great it feels to be alive? Quite.

The ultimate question for metalcore then, is if its scattered styles and influences, it’s triangular wandering between the boundaries of metal, hardcore and, occasionally, emo, can return metal to the glory it saw die out in the early 90’s with the decline of major acts such as Iron Maiden and Metallica giving a bunch of mask wearing goofs and Scandinavian sociopaths the opportunity to change the face of metal. Well, modern metal is a much cleaner and more stylish alternative, both aesthetically and sonically, but hygiene and excellent musical proficiency may not be enough. The screaming that lingers on isn’t exactly inviting to most people, and then there are the black metal fans who continue to fracture the metal community by declaring metalcore isn’t metal and that puppies should die. There also seems to be a decreased interest in talent and musicianship amongst music-listeners these days, as is demonstrated by the presence of bands that are so reliant on studios that they lip-sync instead of play live.

But working in favor of this new wave is the inviting end of the vocal spectrum, outstanding live shows that really get the audience involved, and the presence of catchy and punchy songs that can easily draw in anyone willing to give it a chance.
Close with Trivium’s “Watch the World Burn” fade out


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