Putting it Djent-ly (the latest fad in metal)

There is a trend in metal that is making me, as a fan of innovative and unique metal, quite nervous. This trend calls itself “djent.” I am going to put “djent” in quotations every time in this post because this term is wrong. “Djent” is a style of playing the guitar that you hear throughout this song. What it basically is for you theory buffs out there, it is heavily accented full duration notes that are detuned as the note continues. It is hard to describe it so listen at :16 and you can hear exactly what I’m talking about. It often is accompanied with lots and lots of quantization when mixed by the recording engineer, giving it that sort of robotic sound. All of these effects combined make it sound artificially heavy and more articulate. This is different to how many metal bands in the past leave in the sludgy chugging to fill in the space in the music.

Really at any point in this song you can hear the difference in style, hopefully. This style uses diminished minor chords played hard and they don’t cut off the end of the note so abruptly so it sounds more natural (if anything about electric guitar is natural). There is still quantization done in all recordings, but it is not as obvious. It’s as if the “djent” intends to sound more computerized and appeal to the listeners who don’t fear the future of computer processed music.

How did this style come about?

Meshuggah has been around for a while. This album was released in 1995, making it 18 years old to date. Northlane came about just a few years ago and is using the “djent” style to try and sell music. Why did it take so long for this fad to kick off? Because back then, the world wasn’t ready. Metal had to progress to the point where heavily articulated poly-rhythms wasn’t such a weird thing to hear. A lot of metal heads don’t even take a band seriously without them these days, me being one of them in a lot of cases. So what happened in-between now and then?

I have no idea.

Why do people like it?

Bands like this started popping up around 2009, and have only gained steam since then. The summer slaughter 2013 line-up (criticized by many “tru” metal heads.) features 2 “djent” bands (Periphery seen above and Animals as Leaders) and is one of the biggest North American metal tours every year. “Djent” is definitely the new kid in town in the metal scene. The reason it has become popular is because of what what bands like Periphery have done. They went through a checklist of what a metal band needs to be popular yet also respected (in order of importance): breakdowns, singing clean and screaming, poly-rhythms, and lyrical themes that aren’t the evil-ex-girlfriend/love and loss. Oh and I forgot the two most important thing a new metal band needs to be popular and respected: an obscure sub-genre to label themselves as, with a band name that includes words you have to look up in the dictionary to understand. It sounds like I’m putting down Periphery, but I actually like them quite a bit.

This “checklist” that I just created is why people like it. It gives the listener a feeling of intellectual superiority over people who listen to “less complex” music, without actually requiring said intellectual superiority.

Why do I NOT like it?

If you haven’t picked up the vibe of this post by now, I’m not a fan of this whole “djent” business. That being said there are many “djent” bands who I listen to regularly (both Periphery and Northlane included). The problem I have with it is the same thing a lot of fans like about it, the checklist.

go through the checklist for all of these songs. I challenge you to find more than 2 things missing

the “djent” sound that you heard above.

breakdowns

singing clean and screaming mixed together

poly-rhythms

lyrical themes that aren’t the evil-ex-girlfriend/love and loss

a band name (or song names) that includes words or terms you have to look up in the dictionary to understand

All of these “progressive” metal bands sound the same! They have created a formula for it, just like in popular music (see song structure 101). Progressive metal is supposed to be about challenging these formulas and proven song writing methods to explore the whole world of music, and include them in metal. Progressive metal is not something you can copy off of another band, it doesn’t have a sub genre called “djent.” It pushes the boundaries, not stay comfortably inside them. I don’t have a problem with the “djent” playing style, but I have a problem with what it has become.

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