Personal taste in music is subjective: An obvious statement but one that underlines how each individual appreciates and interprets various genres. On a routine day, we are bombarded with all kinds of music and Muzak, the latter becoming more prevalent in our corporate society.
The key difference between Muzak and music is that the latter has passion and substance, the former, neither. Muzak is a tool employed in businesses to elicit emotion and to suppress discussion. Walk into any urban mall and both the customer and the staff are subjected to a barrage of noise. The public relations theory behind that auditory bombardment is incredibly cynical. Silence makes people frightened. Constant noise will ensure a state of mindless contentment and provide reassuring outside direction. The result is “happy” people who will be constrained from considered debate and who are then motivated to consume products that they probably don’t need to begin with.
As with many people, my day-job puts me into contact with vast quantities of Muzak. In reaction to so much public noise, I tend to seek one of two solaces at the end of the work day: Silence or real music. In the event of the second, there’s a lot to choose from.
In my considered opinion, the most powerful and interesting genre is Classical music. Being fortunate to have had music classes in grade school, I was introduced at young age to the works of many composers ranging from Bach and Dvorak. While learning to play the drums, I can recall the excitement of playing Robert W. Smith’s “Montevista” and being fascinated with his other works “Into the Storm” and “The Great Locomotive Chase”. Smith’s musical genius lies in his use of dynamic percussion: Few modern Classical composers match his understanding of how snare drums can augment melody and provoke a host of emotions.
In recent decades classical music has undergone a significant transformation thanks to the advent of video games and high quality TV shows such as Game of Thrones. The classical music charts are replete with names like Mikolai Stroinski , Marcin Przybylowicz and Ramin Djawadi among others. Stroinski and Przybylowicz wrote much of the soundtrack for the popular Witcher video-game franchise. Ramin Djawadi fuses Middle Eastern and European musical styles to create the soundtrack for HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Yet if Classical music is the most powerful genre, then heavy metal and hard rock are close behind. All three genres are emotive, dynamic and technical. By virtue of containing vocals, heavy metal and hard rock add power of oral language, thus streamlining direct expression.
In my personal view one of the most significant heavy metal albums in terms of both lyrical content and musical dynamics is Death’s 1995 album Symbolic. Symbolic is the kind of album that has many layers. You can head-bang or marvel at the technical abilities on display. That album saw the pairing of the great guitarist and understated philosopher Chuck Schuldiner with the talented and visionary drummer Gene Hoglan. Furthermore, upon examining the lyrical content, you can, with the added benefit of hindsight perceive the prophetic nature of Schuldiner’s thought. “1000 Eyes” predicted the modern surveillance state, while “Empty Words” and “Zero Tolerance” anticipated the hypocrisies and intolerance of radical religion towards the end of the 20th century.
Delving into further technical expressions of anger and insight, Whitechapel’s “Hate Creation” from the band’s 2012 self-titled album is a tour-de-force of dynamic riffs and clinical drumming that elevate vocalist Phil Boseman’s savage observations of life.
From a technical standpoint, heavy metal easily stands beside classical music in terms of its ability to emote. Both genres employ similar dynamic complexity despite the use of different instruments. Where Classical music succeeds over that of heavy metal is in the realm of accessibility. Chances are that in a preference test, most listeners would choose Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” over Misery Index’s “Conquistadores.” Not that the latter’s music isn’t valid, merely that said music operates on a different and more specific plane of sensibility.
In recent weeks, I’ve been listening a lot to UK hard-core act Architects and more specifically to their 2016 album All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us. The album is thought provoking, passionate and full of vast technical proficiencies. Drummer Dan Searle’s style recalls that of former Fear Factory stickman Raymond Herrera and Brann Dailor of Mastodon. The band’s clever use of synthesizers combined with intricate guitar riffs and frequent time changes creates a hauntingly atmospheric experience. My personal favourites from the above album are “Gravity” and “Downfall”.
Occasionally the world of pop music produces an interesting light. Recently I heard the work of Toronto based recording artist Jillea and the track “Shattered” from her 2016 album Who is Jillea. Angst-ridden, and powerfully executed, Jillea’s music reflects a maturity and insight lacking in most mainstream radio pop.
Finally, a particular earworm receiving regular play-time on my car stereo is “Black Cadillac” by Florida rockers Shinedown: Bluesy, groovy and lyrically fitting for any individual driving home from a hard day’s work amidst the Muzak.
1) MONTEVISTA – BY ROBERT W. SMITH
2) INTO THE STORM – BY ROBERT W. SMITH
3) THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE – BY ROBERT W. SMITH
4) GERALT OF RIVIA – MARCIN PRZYBYLOWICZ
5) AFTER THE STORM – MIKOLAI STROINSKI
6) GAME OF THRONES MAIN THEME – RAMIN DJAWADI
7) EMPTY WORDS – BY DEATH
8) 1000 EYES – BY DEATH
9) ZERO TOLERANCE – BY DEATH
10) HATE CREATION – BY WHITECHAPEL
11) CONQUSTADORES – BY MISERY INDEX
12) ADAGIO FOR STRINGS – BY SAMUEL BARBER
13) GRAVITY – BY ARCHITECTS
14) DOWNFALL – BY ARCHITECTS
15) SHATTERED – BY JILLEA
16) BLACK CADILLAC – BY SHINEDOWN