The metal eye and Prosanctus Inferi

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If a piece of music can be thought of in terms of a series of causes and their effects, how far back in time does one have to travel to arrive at a semblance of first cause? As fascinating a conjecture as infinite regression can be, it is ultimately futile and can only lead us to a non-sensical state of confusion where everything seemingly contributes towards the making of a song. Metal, in particular, works within rather strict avenues as befitting the kind of sound the musicians most naturally identify with. As such, the musician has to make a conscious effort to start somewhere. Before the actual business of writing a song can commence, he has to collect all possible mitigating factors that can aid him in his task. The more superficial ones among these, concerned with genre aesthetics, are the easy choices for the skillful musician. Isolating the kernel of an emotion that will suffuse through the length of the song, guiding its trajectory, however, needs an honesty of thought and overarching vision that is far harder to replicate, requiring the musician to withdraw and introspect much as a jeweler polishes a diamond in the rough. By breaking music apart at its most fundamental, atomic level, by taking apart and examining the intervals between notes, and by tying the premise behind a song together with the song itself as it unfolds, listeners can try to get at the musician’s intentions. Though much of this happens at far greater speed in real time, and as more a product of the intuitive mind than anything so mechanical or overtly self-aware on behalf of both subject and object, inspecting great music worth the term often reveals the same internal consistency and attention to detail.

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Many great metal albums have been released by bands when members weren’t out of their teens. While one can suggest that these musicians must not have been up to scratch with music theory due to their young ages and hence created masterworks of the genre through simple fluke, the more one hears from the early years of metal, the harder it becomes to dismiss the possibility of a sort of metal eye, or a musical spider sense, existing that allowed these precocious talents to make music of a maturity belying their inexperience. The classical canon is replete with such examples, but many metal musicians are self-taught with little to no formal schooling. And yet, as this article indicates, a lot of great metal music shows an understanding of universal precepts of beauty, will, conflict and tension, and resolution. Hence the ease with which one can detect the bad, or the merely competent and workmanlike, from real genius.

Like trumpets blaring from the ramparts of hell, Host Beasts Rose As Angels Nocturnal starts, undulating over its deceptively complicated terrain with the grace of a sidewinder. Among all modern death metal bands, Prosanctus Inferi are the most adept at stretching individual phrases to near-breaking point. At several points over the course of this song, riffs achieve a level of elongation subtracting from which would disrupt the essence and balance of the arrangement itself. Layered guitars dismiss the traditional role of rhythm guitar in metal, and play varying melodies that spread out on divergent paths before uniting. This resolution is representative of the piece as a whole; starting off with tremendous endeavour before teasing the listener with the memorable motif that at first erupts in an incendiary solo but will eventually be the song’s fading refrain, this remains one of the more elegant, precisely structured examples of recent death metal.

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