Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts on the Tag "Extreme Metal"

This is in response to one of my reader comments, and I was afraid it may run a little long for the comments section, so I've decided to make a dedicated post.

I use the term extreme metal quite a bit on this blog, but it is a term i've never actually liked simply because it's far too broad in its definition. We all know the various individual genres classified under the banner of extreme metal (Death, Black, Grind, Deathgrind, Thrash, Speed, and their various spawn), but there is far too much variation in each of these genres really to lump them all together under a single banner. Yes, these various genres do share a common ancestry that can trace its roots back to hardcore punk and/or speed metal, but please indulge me while I do a bit of a breakdown here. We're all familiar with the Death Metal genre I'm sure. Morbid Angel are a Death Metal band, but then so are Dark Tranquillity. Morbid Angel are, for all intents and purposes, a by the numbers picture of what most folks think of when the term Death Metal is mentioned. The music is fast, it's technical, dissonant, has guitar solos that utilize huge amounts of chromaticism, blast beat drumming, etc., etc. Dark Tranquillity on the other hand have the dark lyrics, growled vocal delivery, downtuned guitars, and it is somewhat technical.... but the type of melodies created by the instruments are far less dissonant, and if one were to strip away the vocals and tune the guitars back to standard, they would be left with power metal... which is not exactly what one thinks of when the words "extreme metal" are uttered. You can find similar far flung dichotomies in Black Metal, Thrash , and Speed Metal as well. This is why the term "extreme metal" is one i've always taken issue with... a lot of what qualifies under it isn't very extreme by any stretch of the imagination.

I was also asked to comment on if I view Doom Metal as part of the "extreme metal" tree, and the answer is no. I think it's just the idea that the lyrics are dark, and the instruments are tuned lower than standard that leads the various rock journalists out there to classify it as an extreme genre. But really, we all know that dark lyrics and down tuning have been in heavy metal music since it began. When bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, et al. defined what heavy metal was.... Sabbath were down tuning. Geezer's lyrics were quite dark. Led Zeppelin most certainly experimented with lowered and greatly altered tunings... they would often pen lyrics steeped in occult or mystical imagery. Deep Purple did this as well. These elements are not exclusive to extreme metal. While bands like Pentagram, Candlemass, Witchfinder General, etc. may craft music that is incredibly dark and heavy, it is by no means "extreme." They are undeniably metal bands, but the idea that they are part of the same direct lineage as Sodom, Morbid Angel, Mayhem, Raven, etc. is absurd.

Didn't get much sleep last night, so my brain is operating funny. I hope that little diatribe makes sense to you. Just to sum it up, I hate the term extreme metal because it is too broad, but it is so ingrained in the psyches of metal fans (myself included) that I seem to be unable to stop using it. And Doom Metal is only classified as extreme because the guitars are tuned low and rock journalists are lazy.