What goes on inside the mind of the metal musician when he happens upon a fat groove? What prompts him to sit on it and milk its udder dry for all its worth? Chances are that somewhere, deep in the recesses of the idiot mind, realization dawns telling the musician that he’s onto a crowd-pleaser, that piggy-backing onto the groove’s thick and insensate hide is a sure-fire way of working into the hearts of an audience that, all things considered, hasn’t come a long way from its days of standing around a fire under the night sky with paint daubed on naked skin and bodies gyrating to the sound of drums and savage ululations.
The defining characteristic of the metal groove is a roundedness of aspect, a circularity prevalent in the choice of notes and beats, and in the way they are phrased and the middling speed that they are played at. A groove, as practiced by the likes of Meshuggah and other djent or slam bands, whittles away at the harmonic nature of a piece of music and reduces it to an exercise in rhythm. This isn’t to downplay the role of rhythm in music, of course, but rhythm is a device that rarely embellishes the story-telling or emotional fabric of a song. When used by unimaginative bands, it is little more than a blatant plea to the lowest common denominator in metal listening sensibilities. A Pantera groove for example, can appeal to anybody and everybody, and does not require for the listener to share a kinship with heavy metal’s heritage. It is a loud ‘come hither, one and all!‘ summons for the reptile brain to override more evolved thinking, sensing, and reasoning faculties.
This is not to say that worthwhile things have not been done by bands whilst capitalizing on a catchy turn of phrase. Morbid Angel, on at least one album in Covenant, streamlined their previously progressive composition style, writing fully self-contained, recursive riffs that didn’t compromise, in fact enhanced the violence of the music. Cryptopsy on their first two landmark albums wrote thick enough grooves to last a lifetime but were smart enough to break into them for just a breather, submerging them in a sea of chaotic yet quality songwriting. Groovy may be the wrong word to ascribe to Demilich, but even their off-kilter take on death metal certainly wasn’t lacking in aptitude for odd time signatures and riff patterns that came together in strange and unexpectedly foot-tapping consonance. Immolation, in many ways, made the most nuanced use of the groove element of all death metal bands, seamlessly weaving dissonant chords with an idiosyncratic, tribal percussion to create a dark and abstract expression of forlorn anger.
But these are the exceptions to the rule, and the standard that bears looking up to if bands are to introduce groove into their music. In the hands of lesser bands however, like the Broken Hope song below, a groove is an artificial trope that repeats too often and means nothing in the overall scheme of things. It is a doodling accident that the out-of-ideas musician stumbles upon but is either too weary to give a damn about, or, worse yet, is plain oblivious to its ultimate inanity.