1 The Great Subgenre Debate on Sat 14 Mar 2009, 14:20
The Great Subgenre Debate
by OrbWeaver the Heavy Metal Faerie
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Before I start, I'd like to make it known that any examples I use in-depth are bands/artists that I actually know a little something about. So if this seems heavy on examples from only a few subgenres, it's because I'm writing what I know. I'm not going to attempt to use examples of bands I know little about.
For quite some time I've been contemplating sub-genres. On one hand, I find them useful because while many bands are metal bands, they are not the same kind of metal band. For example, Iron Maiden and Immortal are metal, but do not sound the same. So to help categorize these bands, separate lables were developed to help understand just what kind of metal each is. However, subgenres can also be sticky wickets.
Many sub-genres can overlap, which has been the cause of many an argument among metalheads. You will often find power and folk metal overlapping. Other subgenres that overlap are power/progressive, progressive/death, death/black, death/thrash, power/thrash, etc...and I won't go into tripple overlaps, or quadruple-overlaps. It's a headache. Unfortunately because of these overlaps, you find people arguing about what subgenre a band belongs to.
Falconer utilizes Swedish folk songs, writes in a similarly folky style, and has lyrical themes that are often seeped in Swedish history and lore. Yet they have galloping and hellicopter drum beats, and often catchy melodies that one would find in Power Metal. They also have a vocalist who does not yoik, growl, grunt, or scream.
However, other "folk metal" bands may have similar power metal elements, but due to their use of harsher vocals, they are classified as folk metal. It seems to me that Falconer often gets classified as power metal based on their vocals alone. It seems to me that this is a band that has elements from both folk and power metal.
Other bands get classified into one subgenre or another based on vocals alone. For example, I have been listening to the Australian band Eyefear for the last two weeks. I've never seen this band classified into an subgenre, though I'm sure they are. So I was thinking "well, this is very keyboard-heavy, and the use of keyboards give them quite the sweeping symphonic sound." I then thought "you know, I bet no one classifies this band as Symphonic Metal." They are, if I understand correctly, considered Power Metal. Possibly Progressive/Power. And again, it struck me that if this band were fronted by a woman, they would likely be considered symphonic metal.
Furthermore, there has always seemed to be contention in regards to Children of Bodom and Dimmu Borgir as to what subgenres these bands fall into. I've heard CoB called "Power Metal" more times that I can count. I've heard Dimmu Borgir called Black Metal, and seen other people be just as quick to say "NO THEY AREN'T!" I don't consider CoB power metal. I don't consider CoB power metal because of the vocals and lyrical themes. Yet...if they had a clean vocalist, would they be called power metal? Many people consider Dimmu black metal because of the vocals and lyrical themes, yet one argument I've seen against them is the use of keyboards. Would they be more commonly called "Symphonic metal" if they used a clean vocalist? What are these bands?
Now let's talk about "Estrogen Metal." Why has this become a subgenre? Not all female-fronted bands sound the same. Arch Enemy sounds nothing like Nightwish, which sounds nothing like To-Mera, which sounds nothing like Doro. You have women fronting power metal, you have women fronting death metal, you have women fronting black metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, etc...so why would you make a whole new subgenre just because of the gender of the person fronting the band? To me, for there to be a new genre there should be defining qualities that make that subgenre stand out. A band with a frontwoman instead of a frontman is not enough to consider a new subgenre.
Which brings me to "viking metal." Why is this a subgenre at all? Amon Amarth are melodic death metal that utilizes viking themes in their lyrics. Why are they being called "Viking Metal?" Lyrics alone, just like type of vocals and gender should not be the one thing that defines a subgenre. I find that one quality being enough to shift a band from one subgenre to another to be completely ridiculous. And making NEW subgenres just because of one different quality also seems silly.
Subgenres, while useful, often seem to be more a point of dissention. While they help define bands within the overall genre of Metal, they also get murky. There are no clear lines, and it seems impossible to make any clear definitions when so many bands cross over from one subgenre to another. The waters become muddied even further one people start inventing new subgenres based on one quality in a bad.
Subgenres, they are a double-edged sword.