Louder + Faster != Better

What ever happened to space? As I review music for my loud rock radio show at KGLT, I don't get much breathing room. Modern day heavy music is fast and its consistently loud. Musicians in heavier styles today can play excruciatingly fast, to the point you almost can't believe that humans are capable of this. Similarly, modern music has squeezed itself into the upper registers of dynamic range (see Loudness war). In essence, us fans of heavy music barely have a clue what silence is.

It's interesting to think about this from the perspective of musical notation. There are two equally valid sets of notation symbols, one for notes and one for rests. If you learn to read sheet music, you need to know how to read them equally well. You don't get to focus primarily on notes and simply downplay rests. Modern heavy music, however, seems to tremble in fear over the slightest thought of a rest, at least any significant period of silence or reduced dynamics.

I think that's unfortunate. Once I've listened to an entire album of high tempo, nonstop pedal-to-the-floor metal, I'm drained. I'm also left less impressed with the speed and intensity because all I have to compare it to is speed and intensity. Speed and loud dynamics are powerful when they are compared to something. When a band can play slower pieces, with more open space and -then- shift gears and play a barn-burner, that'll get my attention. If a band can lull me to sleep with a nice quiet passage, -then- they can truly shock me by hitting the red on the meters.

Modern technology makes it easy to create more of things. Most processing gear and algorithms is meant to take something and make it sound different. Silence is like zero. It's the lack of something, and we have a tendency to want to fill it with something. I don't think that's a good thing. I think we should recognize the value of silence and its partner, quiet, when it comes to generating truly memorable music. The intricate interplay between sound and silence is what leads to real beauty. Imagine building a beautiful custom home and forgetting leave any living space. That's the way much of speed and loudness wars leave me feeling. I ache for moments of open space, of calm and of varying texture, without letting go of the Heavy.

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Reader Comments (2)

I agree with you here Dave. A lot of new music, metal in particular, is all about who can play the fastest. Especially if you look in Deathcore and Technical Death Metal its all about virtuosity most of the time. Players just try to trump each other by sweeping faster or doing more complex lines and someone see this as creating good songs. This doesn't only happen with guitarists either. I can name a few bands now days that the entire song is straight up blasts beating drumming.

Now I am not saying in any way that I dislike what I listed above. In fact, when used correctly blast beats, sweeping, guitar virtuosity, are some of my favorite things in metal. Its all about selective use though with me. How do they use it in context? Do they just sweep to do it? Does it actually make sense within the song or are they just running an Aminor arpeggio? Does the drumming make sense within the guitar riff and do they have some contrast within the song? Then again sometimes you need to write an aggresive song but there has to be a reason behind it not to simply do it.

I also agree that shredding is becoming kind of boring and "been there done that" but I think this is a good thing. This allows fans to demand something more. No one cares that you can simply sweep anymore and do wicked fast scale runs. They want context, meaning, feeling, within the shredding that exists. I think we are seeing that in some new (newer) guitarists such as Loomis, Tobin Abasi, and one of my favorites Michael Keene. They are starting to create more texture within the shredding style therefore adding those elements into metal.


September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJake

Hi Jake,

Good to hear your thoughts on this and once again reminded how much our perspectives are in sync in music and otherwise.

It's funny, playing fast has its challenges, but it's important to remember how hard it is to play -slow- and in tempo. That's a good reminder to me that sometimes I should be slowing the metronome down.


September 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hearst

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