Different people listen to music differently. Seems painfully obvious, sure, but since I posted a little while back about quizzing myself on how well I knew my own music collection (apparently, I half-know my collection…) I’ve been thinking about just how it is that we recognize and/or remember particular music.
This got me trying to figure out what metal songs are most likely to find themselves stuck in my head. While thinking through that, it seemed that most of the results I came up with were songs I would identify because of their vocal hook; basically, shower sing-a-long type songs.
Here are just a few examples of some of my favorite heavy metal sing-a-longs, then:
Judas Priest, “Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith (Live)”
Sure, I occasionally get the slow-motion blues-stomp of “Heavy Duty” in there, but it’s primarily the “Defenders of the Faith” sing-a-long that I find banging around in there all the time.
Nile, “Black Seeds of Vengeance”
For whatever reason, the first line of this song has always stuck with me (“The scourge of Amalek is upon you…”), but other than that, it’s obviously just the crushing death/doom breakdown at the end, chanting the song title ad infinitum that gets me every time.
Dark Angel, “Darkness Descends”
Again, it’s just the chorus here. Watch your neighbors and coworkers recoil in disgust as you let loose your venomous saliva to the soothing sounds of “The city is guilty / The crime is life / The sentence is death / Darkness deSCEEEENDS!”
Metallica, “Creeping Death (Live)”
The chorus on this classic track is a great one to shout along with, but everyone’s favorite participatory moment has got to be the breakdown – where else but at a metal show is it considered socially acceptable to scream “DIE!!! DIE!!! DIE!!!” at the vein-bulging, eye-popping top of one’s lungs?
Bathory, “Woman of Dark Desires”
Probably with some effort I could figure out what Quorthon’s yelling in the verses, but for the most part, I’m happy enough to croak along to the chorus on this, one of my favorite Bathory tracks.
Mayhem, “Funeral Fog”
Most black metal is total balls to sing along to, but Attila’s inimitable vocals are, nonetheless, fun to imitate. “FYOOOOOO-NER-EEE-UHHHL……FUGH!!!”
That’s obviously just a small cross-section of the metal songs that tend to get stuck in my head. The interesting thing, though, is that it seems pretty clear that I gravitate much more toward vocal hooks than guitar riffs. I mean, some of these songs have riffs that are extremely easy to recall to the mind (“Creeping Death,” especially, but even the minor tremelo blitz of “Funeral Fog”), but for the most part, these songs get stuck in my head because of the vocals.
I wonder, then, if it has something to do with the fact that I don’t play the guitar? An interesting question to pose to metalheads, then, is: Are guitar players more likely to get riffs stuck in their heads, or are the songs in their heads there, like they are for me, as sing-a-longs? It’s a bit more difficult to “sing” along with a guitar riff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if different people identify more closely with different parts of a song, in which case it would seem to have something to do with how we listen to a song.
For my part, it seems to be vocal melodies, catchy choruses, and so forth, that stick in the mind after I’m listening. When I’m in the act of listening, though, I do often find myself concentrating more closely on the guitar, or following drum fills, or picking out the bass line – those things just don’t tend to stick to my gray matter as cloyingly as the human voice.
Yet another thing that I noticed from this brief stream-of-consciousness song list is that most of the these songs whose vocal tracks get lodged in my brain are in some way thrash-inspired. Clearly, Metallica and Dark Angel are thrash, but that Bathory track is a very thrashy one, and the chorus of “Funeral Fog” switches between straight-on black metal blasting and a more thrash-paced break.
The odd thing is, I don’t necessarily consider thrash to be one of my favorite genres, so I wasn’t expecting to see such a thrash influence here. The more I think about it, though, it makes sense that thrash-inspired songs might be more memorable, inasmuch as the genre has a heavy focus on jagged, intensely rhythmic delivery, whereas songs from death metal or black metal often truck along with less variation.
Or, at least, the vocals in thrash are often delivered in a sort of complimentarity to the riffs, whereas in certain other genres, the guitar work is meant to provide texture rather than clearly identifiable structure, so it may be more difficult to pluck the vocals out of that textural mass.
Guitar players out there: Do you ignore vocals and remember only riffs? Drummers: Do you ever recall anything other than how tight some dude’s snare is? Singers: Do you ever listen to Attila Csihar and despair, knowing that nothing you ever produce with your vocal cords will match that level of depravity?
In some other random news:
- Red Harvest has broken up, and that just bums me the fuck out. For my money, nobody out there did cold, antisocial industrial metal better, and they will be sorely missed. See the band’s Myspace for details. To help you through the grieving process, check out some official live clips from their 20th anniversary show last year. Four songs from the show are available here.
- Neurosis has just put out an official live album, capturing their performance at Roadburn in 2007. It is available from Neurot Recordings at this location. Go, give yourself to the rising.
- Across Tundras have a new album out, and it’s cheap from their webstore. I absolutely LOVE their first full-length, Dark Songs of the Prairie (probably the best replacement for the sorely-missed Gault), but I haven’t followed any of the intervening releases. I’ve just ordered my copy, though, and will gladly report in due time. Here’s to hoping for more doomed-out Americana.
- Devin Townsend finally announced more tour dates on his upcoming headlining tour, including a fervently hoped-for (by me, at least) stop in Chicago in November. FUCK YES. Ahem. Check out the full list of tour dates here, and do not miss this heavy metal wizard if he’s swinging through your stomping grounds.
That’s all for now, friends. Be good to each other, and please have a very heavy metal Wednesday.