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#62 - Let’s ditch some more vocal preconceptions. Sovereign

I already proposed, to myself among others, to not become too vocal focused when watching at Modern Metal and its development back in my post about Hyperial. What about carrying it a bit further. What about going to absolutes, deflecting the most basic vocal preconception. The notion that there have to be vocals at all in Modern Metal. If you’ve hung around the djent scene for some time, where instrumental music has seen some rise in popularity, at least as far as I can see it, this may not be such a strange thought for you. But seeing how omnipresent vocals are in Metal and how large of a role they play in my conception of what Modern metal is, it may be seen as odd.

But just as it is with a band that embraces the core influences of Modern metal but does not include the typical vocal dynamic, a band can embrace all the instrumental stylistic choices in the works of SYL, Meshuggah and Fear Factory, and thus be distinctly Modern Metal, without including vocals. And there’s quite some artists who do that, actually. You could for example count Paul Wardingham, and most definitely artists like Kreepmaster, Blackstone or Ex Machina. 

But those will be material for later as todays the day for the artist that made me write this: Sovereign (I wish I could find his/her page but, as you might imagine, “Sovereign” is not exactly a great name to google). Released a debut album the day before yesterday and though it may not have a distinctive handwriting, it already is a very cool example of how to write engaging songs without any vocals and without any wankery. Plus, it has a very nice ambient futuristic atmosphere that is quite positive and uplifiting.

Have a listen:

#61 - Freshly stumbled upon. Almost Human

Another one I just stumbled upon because of a review of their debut(?) EP that I just read. The reviewer was a bit overwhelmed by the mix and didn’t give it a score, which often points to something worth lending an ear as far as I’m concerned.

To be fair: Almost Human are tough to place. A bit reminiscent of Insense in their very eclectic mix and ovberalll tone, just darker and a bit slower, rotating around the core of Modern Metal, taking peripheral influences with them left and right but never quite settling. It’s kaleidoscopic galert, falling into hints of Modern Metal, Progressive Metal, Rock, Nu Metal, short hints of Avant Garde. But they manage to not really sound that weird somehow. I’m truly interested where those guys will go in the future.

Here’s the EP:

#60 - Peripheral goodies. Rave The Reqviem

Todays recommendation goes a bit farther into the peripherals of Modern Metal as I normaly like to do but Swedens Rave The Reqviem are definitely worth the break. They definitely play a style somewhere between Industrial Metal and EBM but with a heightened emphasis on guitars and some fairly mechanical riffage. Plus, they employ clean sung hooky choruses done by their female singer with enoumrous efficiency. Those two things make them kinda sit on the bridge between Industrial Metal and Modern Meta, so to say.

So their just released debut album should be at least interesting no matter where your preferences swing to. Have a listen: 

#59 - Double comeback. Scamp

And one to lighten the mood, as always after some long theoretic rambling. And what a wonderful one to lighten the mood it is.

A band that was silent for quite a long time. Scamp were a somewhat late entry in the Math Metal wave, setting themselves somewhere between the Meshuggah-worship of bands like Four Question Mark, more Neo Thrash-inspired takes like Mnemics and a bit of Progressive Metal input akin to Textures. Even though they went the road of synth-less raw polyrhythmic aggression, they were just a bit more groove- and song-oriented than many others. And spawned one of the best albums to ever emerge from the Math Metal wave, at least if you ask me. Went by the name of “Mirror Faced Mentality” and sounded like this:

Probably not going to say something like this again anywhere so hold it dear: Dang dude, dat groove.

Now, six years later they finally make their comeback and they are bringing someone along you might recognise if you like Mnemic: Michael Bøgballe. Also making his comeback after a long time of silence (Smaxones album “Red” being the last time you could hear him sing anywhere on record). They just released a new song:

Energy in spades.

#58 - Similarities in self presentation and themes among the significant four, part I: Preliminaries. What can we learn from self presentation?

So, this lost a bit more momentum than I had planned for but it has been some busy days, so I guess it’s ok. Anyway, I should make up for it so I don’t lose all the focus and I should finally come around to writing that post that’s supposed to wrap up my thoughts on the core concept of Modern Metal as a genre. As you might notice from the title, I’ve finally decided to split it up. Into three parts in total. That’s because while thinking about it I realised that this bit might be much more important than I realised and I shouldn’t cramp it all into one far too lengthy post.So I will do some pre-thoughts on the matter in this post here and then elaborate with a few examples in the following two.

So what will this be about? After having written down my thoughts on the stylistic level of Modern Metal, there’s still an important level left: similarities that go beyond stylistic choices in their music, similarities in how they present their music, in which themes they dwell on. As, at least to me, that seems to be a huge part of a genre. Artists that belong to a genre tend to have a certain shared identity they express through symbolism, lyrical themes, etc. Just look at Death Metal or Black Metal.

But, even that said, I think it would be neat to think about this a bit more to get a better idea what self-presentation and themes can really tell us if we want to know if a bunch of works of certain artists form a genre. Why would this ‘shared identity’-thingy be of importance here? How does it relate to a genre?

The heuristic function of genres

So, I’ll try to trace back my own train of thought on this. My starting point was some further thought about what genres are in everyday communication, what their function is. I have the feeling I didn’t even cover it before. I mean, this blog is obviously nothing for people who detest the very notion of categorization in music. But I’ve always had the intuition that categories like genres are not only useful but also necessary. One reason might be that you can talk about music a bit easier, if you don’t always have to refer to specific artists to say something about music. Another is that there are artists that show similarities, so it is perfectly reasonable and adequate to sometimes talk about those groups instead of talking about every individual artist. And to do that, you have to give that group a name.

But there’s also something else which is excessively important, especially in times of the Internet: categories like genres have a very strong heuristic function. Meaning: they help you find stuff. Even if one would be able to listen to music the entire day, nonstop, he would perhaps be able to cover 1-5% of what is released in a single day. No one can listen to everything. You always have to chose what you want to listen to, to narrow it down. There are several techniques to narrow your options in meaningful and sensible ways and one of them is by concentrating on groups of content that you already know you’ll potentialy like. Genres are one of the ways to construct such groups in the realm of art. You know you like this and that artist? Well, then you might also like similar ones. And those you will find grouped under the same genre umbrella(-term, tag, etc.).

Being seen

But what does that mean? Why am I elaborting on that here? The connection is of practical nature. Consider you browse a service like bandcamp. Obviously one option is to browse by tags and genre terms. But you can also browse through the lists of new releases by band name, band logo and cover art. As those will often tell you just as much about the category or group an artist belongs to as a genre tag. Why is that so? Because there is a tendency of simlarly sounding bands presenting themselves in similar ways in cover art, band logos, band names and album names. Certain similarities of self presentation seem to be somehwat connected or at least parallel to certain similarities in stylistic choices. So they can serve a similar heuristic function.

Why could that be? Artists have to present themselves apart from just their music in some way. This is, as I just hinted at, not a consequence of capitalist economy but of the sheer amount of cultural production in this day and age (and if that, in turn, is a consequence of capitalist economy is an item for debate, I guess). Potential listeners have to get not just audio, but also visual cues for what a band might sound like to be able to be able to find the interesting stuff as fast as possible. If you are an artist, you’ll want to reach an audience that might like you first and foremost. That’s your potential core audience. The others, that come to like you even though they weren’t interested before are probably lucky strikes but not the bulk of potential listeners. So you present yourself in a way that is somehwat similar to the way other artists present themselves that you think do similar things as you do in their music. You present yourself to be seen. And your chance of being seen is higher if you’re standing near to something people already have their eyes on.

Being related

I know this reeks of marketing. And in many cases, it may be exactly that as labels probably have a say in artists presentation more often than not. But even at the times it is sheer marketing, maybe even pandering to a certain scene, it still means, and that’s what is interesting here, that someone, be it the members of a band or a promotional manager, saw a close connection between certain artists. They saw similarities, and decided that they are close enough to make those artists part of the same thing. The themes that become apparent in band names, album names and lyrical themes, have an even higher potential of showing connections like that, as they are less prone to be influenced by marketing calculus. The themes an artist decides to work with show what cultural background he feels a deeper connection with, even apart from just trying to be seen.

And if certain artists show strong connections to similar ideas and cultural backgrounds, like Philosophy, certain ideologies or Science Fiction or whatever it may be, and compliment that with a similar way of presenting themselves, an active drive to very outwardly show that they realise that they are related to similar ideas and preferences, to affiliate themselves with certain cultural movements and backgrounds, that is a very strong hint that those artists themselves percieve a connection or at least significant and meaningful overlaps between each other as existent.

What that means for a genre claim

And, summed up, that means that self presentation and themes that artists use and work with can tell us something about how strong the connection between them is, if there is something apart from similar stylistic choices and influences that holds them together. It widens the potential similarities, that justify calling a bunch of works part of a genre, to a broader cultural context. And if there are, that simply strengthens the claim that there actually is a genre by showing a bunch of additional similarities between the works of certain artists. Furthermore, it helps to objectify the claim that a genre exists at least a bit, as it hints at the fact that someone else than the one who claims (which would be me in this case) also sees connections of a similar sort.

So, coming back to my little project here, that means that it could strengthen my claim that Modern Metal as a genre exists considerably if I could show that the bands that show the stylistic similarities I’ve already elaborated on also show similarites in a wider context of presentation and themes.

I will try to show that this is the case in an exemplary way in the following two posts. I definitely can not analyse the whole of Modern Metal, so I’ll limit myself to the significant four and suggestively imply that what I can show there expands to most of the other bands aswell. But I’m confident that this simply shows in some of the bands I present on (more or less) daily basis. As I’m also not that good at figuring out lyrics, I will concentrate on band logos and cover art on the visual side and band names and album names on the themes side. Figuring out similarities in lyrical themes is a job for someone more competent at that than I am. 

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