No, I’m not talking about graduating in heavy metal (although this is a thing that exists). I want to talk about the use of the major scale in metal. The major scale doesn’t seem to be very common in metal and it certainly isn’t much talked about. With this post, I want to highlight some artists that use the major scale in to create new and interesting sounds in metal.
What is the major scale?
Without getting too technical, the major scale is a collection of notes that makes music sound happy (when played fast), or sentimental, melancholic, or grand (when played slowly). Of course this is an over-generalization, but it does illustrate the contrast; metal is usually aggressive, depressive or a mixture of the two. However, that doesn’t go for the following artists.
The feminine version of Mastodon. Baroness combines the heavy guitars and pummeling drums of sludge and post-metal with melodic songwriting and expressive clean singing. Through their music – especially on their latest album Purple – shines a surprising amount of melancholy, which is partly caused by their willingness to go full major. Take songs like Shock Me and Chlorine and Wine, both are dripping with an elusive mix of hopefulness and sadness. It’s a surprising move for a band operating in a scene that’s usually associated with smoking weed and being sad, rather than showing your soft side.
Similar bands: Torche, High on Fire
Devin Townsend Project
Devin Townsend has been at it since 1995, when his band Strapping Young Lad dropped the album Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing. Their uncompromising mix of death metal, thrash metal and industrial was a game-changer in the metal scene. (When even Wikipedia gives up and just calls your music “extreme metal”, you know you’ve crossed some boundaries.) It didn’t all stay heavy for Devy however, as his Devin Townsend Project was aiming at the melodic, epic side of metal. The 2012 album Epicloud embodies this sound more fully than any other album. Songs like True North, Save Our Now and Grace (the latter of which he himself has called “super gay”) are prime examples of the blissful sound Devin manages to create on this album.
Similar bands: Xerath, Haken
Deafheaven’s 2013 album Sunbather stirred up some reactions to say the least. People who love it say that it blends black metal and shoegaze in unprecedented ways. People who hate it say that it’s the worst of both worlds and a very low stepping stone for non-metalheads. What no one can deny is that they did something new. Sunbather takes the dense, layered guitars and harsh vocals of black metal and mixes them with bright, melodic guitar leads and atmospheric interludes. The result is an aggressively blissful record that makes you want to punch a cloud. It’s emo music taken to its logical extremes. It’s so difficult to describe that I feel useless typing this. Just listen and judge for yourself.
Similar bands: Lantlôs, Wolves in the Throne Room
In my opinion, Destiny Potato’s Lun is one of the very few successful attempts at combining metal and pop elements (others are Ghost and the previously mentioned Devin Townsend). They play music that so easily could’ve been bland, flat and tasteless, but they somehow make it interesting while also making you feel a little bit bad for listening to such poppy tunes. I think the combination of great female vocals and sharp songwriting is what distinguishes Destiny Potato from bands like Periphery and TesseracT, who are on the same side stylistically but somehow annoy the hell out of me.
Similar bands: Jakub Żytecki, The Safety Fire