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Influences on metal: Krautrock


Browsing through band pages on Wikipedia the other day yielded this little gem:

Probably the most cherished element of the Neu! oeuvre is what is often called the "Motorik" beat (a portmanteau combining the German words 'Motor' and 'Musik') - although the band themselves did not use this term, Dinger himself later referred to it as the "Apache beat". At least one third of their recorded output is in the Motorik form. Here they deconstruct the traditional rock song format, with its verses and choruses, intros and changes, stripping it down to a single minimalist 4/4 beat, which Dinger repeats continuously throughout the entire track. Neu! were a big influence on the sound of the 1970s band Hawkwind, particularly Simon King and Lemmy's driving Motorik bass and drum double act.  ~ Wikipedia page for Neu!

Not only is this music composed similarly to the way all truly great metal is composed, but it makes a direct contribution to metal's heritage through Lemmy of Hawkwind, and later, Motorhead.  From there it descends into early, repetitive speed metal acts, proto-extreme metal like Bathory and Hellhammer, and also into hardcore punk via Discharge.  The ambient beat-oriented construction then skips a generation (for the most part) and winds up a mainstay of black metal, driving masterpieces such as Transilvanian Hunger, Pure Holocaust, and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.  However, this aspect can also be heard in some early death metal, Sepultura's Morbid Visions and Bestial Devastation albums for example.

Tangerine Dream influenced Norse black metal.

Still not convinced?  In various interviews, Euronymous of Mayhem claimed direct influence from acts like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Brian Eno.  "Silvester Anfang," the introduction to Mayhem's Deathcrush EP, was composed by Conrad Schnitzler, a former Tangerine Dream member.  As well, there's the fact that a handful of the more prominent Norwegian black metal bands faded out as ambient projects: Burzum created eerie minimalist keyboard works while Ildjarn, once violent and punk-like, crafted meditative hymns to nature from simple synthesizer harmonies.  Adding to this is Fenriz' (of Darkthrone) short-lived side-project Neptune Towers, a tribute to the cosmic rock of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream specializing in lengthy, ambient space-scapes.

It's clear that Germany's kosmische musik, or krautrock as it is called colloquially, has left its mark on the heavy metal genre.  If ambient music can be thought of as a continuation of the classical tradition in Western music, albeit with an emphasis on moving sonic textures as opposed to traditional melodic and harmonic interactions, then we might refer to it as "neoclassical music."  By analogy, heavy metal can be looked upon as a kind of neoclassical rock music -- it has the phrasal composition and complex emotional architecture of classical (although admittedly, quite simplified), as well as, in black metal, a focus on "texture" or certain types of organic composition with pure sound, but it relies on basic rock instrumentation and dynamics.  So although metal is definitely a world all its own, it does have one foot firmly planted in the classical and neo-classical traditions of Western Art music, and contemporary metallians would do well to check out some of following artists:

See also:

For more info: We'll go into the influence of classical music on metal another time.  For now, check out my column for more articles on heavy metal music and the Los Angeles metal scene, as well as heavy metal news and music reviews.


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