overground scene


Death Metal and unsuccessful mimicking in the creative process

I recently purchased the book “Choosing Death: the improbable history of Death Metal and Grindcore” writen by Albert Mudrian in 2004 and I quickly devoured its contents as soon as I got it in my hands. It is a pretty cool book basically structured around quotes from superstars of the international death metal and grind scene. The author conducted a huge number of interviews with practically everyone responsible for these extreme metal and punk movements. It was really interesting to read insights from Kam Lee on the beginings of Death and Massacre, the relationship between Chuck (Death) and Scott Carlson (Repulsion) and about the work ethos of Morbid Angel. Chuck’s and Morbid Angel’s stories were, I think, two of the most revealing ones in the sense that the most successful bands are after all the ones who put the most effort into it and manifest extreme levels of determination. However, the present post is not about bands’ histories. It is about the creative process itself.

The song “Evil Dead” from Death’s debut album is inspired by the famous horror movie of the same name. The initial riff however, I am pretty sure that it was inspired by the soundtrack of the movie Zombi 2 by Lucio Fulci. The minimalistic and particularly hooky music typical for horror films of that era has indeed been very popular with young death metalers. Great examples are of course the monumental ending of Entombed’s  “Left hand Path“, which is borrowed from the film Phantasm and the introduction of “The Exorcist”  from Possessed which comes from the movie of the same name. In one of the interviews on this book, Michael Amott (Carnage, Arch Enemy) explains that a lot of the now considered typical Swedish death melodies came from ripping off melodies from horror film music (p. 102). The interesting part with regard to the creative process is that these musicians were getting the melodies wrong, so the end result did not sound exactly the same as the original. I think that the importance of unsuccessful mimicking is downplayed when it comes to composition. From my personal experience, I have often come up with riffs just by trying to figure out what some of my favourite bands were doing! Once I tried to figure out how the main riff of “Purgatory” by Iron Maiden went and I ended up with a riff that had nothing to do with the Maiden song but was pretty cool too. Testimonies such as this one by Amott are important because they contribute to the demolition of established myths around composition, such as that musicians are extraordinarily gifted people who imagine melodies on their heads and they materialise them on paper… Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse also confesses, on their Centuries of Torment DVD, that many of their trademark characteristics are the result of wrong interpretation of their favourite bands.  Which also points towards innovative music (such as early death metal) being the result of experimentation, accidents and unsuccessful mimicking.

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