Sunday Sesh – Narrow it Down



If you could only listen to ONE genre of metal, which would it be?

Here’s a fun thought process:

Anybody who calls themselves a “metalhead” can probably claim that if every other style of music disappeared, they’d get by okay.

But what if all but one sub-genre of metal disappeared? If you had to go to a desert island and could only take your CDs or file-playlist from one sub-genre of heavy metal – just one – which would it be?

For me, this dilemma is actually pretty easy. It’d be death metal, no question. That decision has as much to do with sentimentality and personal taste as it does with critical reasoning and musicological considerations:

1) Death metal is the first style I got into when I started discovering metal and still comprises a considerable part of my record collection. I’d be able to take a lot more CDs to the island.

2) It’s an “active” genre – new bands are still being formed, new albums are still being released, and new developments in the music are still being made. (Of course, these days there aren’t really any “dead” sub-genres of heavy metal even if some – like late ‘60s acid rock or nu-metal – are kind of dormant. But a lot of them survive as revivalist genres which aren’t boasting new developments or crossovers.) So if the island has broadband, I’ve still got plenty of interesting new music coming my way.

3) There’s plenty of sub-sub-genres and microgenres within death metal to give it quite a bit of variety: melodeath, brutal/slam, tech-death, skronk, deathcore, OSDM, goregrind…(in fact at one point even black metal was kind of a sub-genre within death metal, though admittedly those days are long gone).

4) For a style which has such a reputation for orthodoxy, death metal is surprisingly diverse, and the “rules” are a lot looser than many appreciate. Specifically, if somebody asked you to describe death metal, you’d nominate characteristics like detuned guitars, blast beats, and atonal vocals, right? In fact, neither blast beats nor detuned guitars are actually mandatory; there are several prominent death metal acts that never used either. Even singing is allowed in limited doses – as is unconventional instrumentation if required. The production values go from “authentically” lo-fi to “professionally” faked-out and all points betwixt. The lyrics go from the personal to the political; from the metaphysical to the biological.

Conversely, choosing death metal is made even easier by considering the reasons behind all the other genres I wouldn’t choose:

1) Metalcore: I already can’t stand this genre, generally.

2) Power Metal: I already can’t stand this one either, generally.

3) Nu-metal: I already can’t stand this one either, generally.

4) Gothic metal: I already can’t stand this one either, generally.

5) Folk metal: And nor can I stand this one either, generally.

(Look, it’s nothing against any of these genres objectively; whether I personally like them or not. Each one of the above genres does actually boast a few songs or even albums I really enjoy. But if I’m going to take only one genre, it’s gotta have a whole lot of bands that I like; not just a few songs.)

6) Traditional heavy metal / hard rock: Much of it just sounds too out-of-date to me. Which is no problem at all if the songwriting’s good… otherwise, it’s just a museum piece. There’s no question that some of the ‘70s classics have a proven timeless appeal – I STILL don’t get bored listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” “War Pigs” or “The Boys Are Back in Town” – but if I’m going to spend the rest of my life only listening to one genre, I’d at least like to pretend that I don’t know what a song is going to do next when listening.

7) NWoBHM: Again, a little before my time. I’m not even that much of an Iron Maiden fan, as much as I do sincerely respect them.

8) Grindcore: Not enough scope. There’s only so much you can do with songs under two minutes.

9) Groove metal: Pretty much one of those relatively “dead” genres at this point; so there wouldn’t be much contemporary music available. And I was never really into it back in the ‘90s.

10) Djent: By definition it’s basically a riff-type and a time-signature; so again – not enough variety within the style.

11) Thrash metal: One of the “greater” genres (as opposed to one of the decidedly “lesser” genres like glam metal or deathcore), thrash admittedly does have a wide and respectable tradition. But again – for me it’s a bit dated. Slayer’s the only thrash band I’ve ever been a rabid fan of, and I mainly see it as an ancestor of death metal which was made redundant by its descendent. The thrash bands which don’t follow that darker lineage – such as speed metal or the crossover acts – have never really interested me much.

12) Doom metal: A long-standing and still-active genre; but generally a much more orthodox one and therefore kind of dated too. Plus I do tire of slow tempos pretty quickly; and I tend to prefer songs under six minutes.

13) Industrial metal: Too hit-and-miss, quality-wise.

14) Post-metal: Some interesting stuff happens under this banner; but again, there’s just not quite enough scope for my liking, and also not enough up-tempo material. (A disturbingly large proportion of it seems to be instrumental, too; which has had the significant effect of teaching me how much I prefer music with vocals, curiously.)

15) Sludge: Ditto 14.

16) Glam metal: In retrospect there was actually some decent playing and songwriting in glam; but there was also a shit-ton of crap. Plus, like a lot of people I was never able to get past the whack imagery. And it goes without saying that it’s one of those dead genres, Steel Panther’s efforts notwithstanding. I haven’t got any glam CDs in my collection unless you count Van Halen.

17) Black metal: Like thrash, one of the “greater genres” in its own right; but one which to this day I have always regarded as a less-reliable adjunct of death metal boasting on average a slightly lower level of quality control (at least most of the time). Like death metal, black metal spends (or at least has spent in the past) a lot more time at the cutting edge than other heavy metal sub-genres, which keeps it fresh and exciting. But in my experience, it simply doesn’t deliver as often; and it goes without saying that it’s slightly more of an acquired taste. Plus, I really fuckin’ hate the symphonic ones. (Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Burzum are the only three conspicuously keyboard-oriented black metal bands I’ve ever gotten into to any extent.) I tend to visit the pawnbroker with CDs I found underwhelming, and I’ve sold a lot more black metal CDs over the years than I have death metal ones. So as close a contest as it may be, I’d still choose death metal over black metal if I had to.

18) Prog metal: As we’ve previously discussed here on the Toilet, “progression” can be found anywhere in metal, but for the purposes of using the term to denote Dream Theater / Fates Warning / Rush-type fare: There’s a lifetime of great stuff under this umbrella; but again – for me personally it’s very hit-and-miss. Plus, I tend to prefer metal which musically makes a statement rather than exploring the lack of one. I’ve long felt that the more “progressive” a band gets, the less “metal” they become; and I’ll stay on this side of the fence for the foreseeable future.

So that’s it, basically! Over to you: Commit to a sub-genre, and tell us why – and why not everything else?

Note: I do acknowledge that some may think I’m cheating by choosing “death metal” broadly rather than selecting more specifically from among tech, melo-, brutal, etc. I’ll respect that accusation if it’s leveled at me. Hey – if you can pin your choices onto one specific microgenre and give us an extensively cogent explanation why, you’ll win the Toilet today, for sure! But for the general purposes of the rules, let’s assume that by “specific metal sub-genre”, we mean anything which boasts its own Wikipedia entry (which “Death Metal” does the last time I looked); rather than just a paragraph within an existing entry (which is all “Melodic Death Metal” has, the last time I looked).

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