Thursday, December 16, 2010

Metal Briefs: Djent

The term djent was coined by Meshuggah's Fredrik Thordendal, who also pioneered the extensive use of the sound. Misha Mansoor (a.k.a. Bulb) of Periphery defines it as
The onomatopoeia of a heavily palm muted distorted guitar chord which is usually played as but not limited to a 4 string double octave powerchord, and as a result sounds much more metallic and sonically present than a 'chug' 'chugga' or 'djun' per se, and which is basically how Periphery would describe its palm muted guitar sound.
Whether or not you view it as a distinct subgenre of metal, there is a growing number of bands who identify with a particular djent-based sound, focusing on Meshuggah worship (the tone and love for odd time signatures) and with a Dream Theater-like appreciation for virtuosity and technique. Often, they'll use 7- or 8-string guitars (like Meshuggah), and they seem to be gear-heads, interested in different tones they can get out of different equipment. Many bands incorporate industrial sounds into the music.

Even though Metal Archives seems to be taking the extremely unreasonable position these are not metal bands, I think it's pretty clear they are, even if they're coming at it from a different attitude.

Let's take a look at three examples of the style.

Animals as Leaders: Animals as Leaders (2009)

Animals As LeadersWashington, D.C.'s Animals as Leaders is probably the best-known act from the djent movement, having toured with technical-minded death bands like The Faceless, Cephalic Carnage, and Decrepit Birth. It's an entirely instrumental project of guitarist Tosin Abasi, and despite the silly name the music is quite good. The music alternates between heavy ("Thoroughly at Home") and light ("On Impulse"), often within the same song. The guitar playing is superb, and besides djent, a variety of unique playing techniques are used ("Behaving Badly" has a particularly interesting picking technique). Being instrumental, and being about virtuosity and exploration of techniques over songwriting, it's not exactly for everyone. But highlights "Inamorata" and "Song of Solomon" are fully fleshed-out cuts that will resonate with just about anyone. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Cloudkicker: The Discovery (2008)

Cloudkicker is another instrumental djent band, although this is a one-man band from Columbus, Ohio. The approach here lacks the electronic sounds of Animals as Leaders. In an interview he explained why he tends to release EPs rather than LPs: "I get bored listening to an hour of instrumental music . . . ." Well, The Discovery is an LP, and you'll probably get bored with it by the time it's over, too. There just simply isn't enough going on here, with the same riff getting repeated way too many times without much interest layered on top of it. There are several short interludes on here (all boring and soft, except "Triumverate!"), and a handful of full-length songs that sound like they're simply unfinished. It still sounds pretty cool, and would make great background music to a video game or movie/TV show, but background is all it can provide. I give it 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Periphery: Periphery (2010)

PeripheryMaryland's Periphery sets itself apart from the above bands by actually employing a vocalist, and being more obviously metalcore. Having a vocalist must have sounded like a good idea at the time, but he's one of those generic metalcore vocalists with that whiny, irritating clean vocal style. Well, I'm sure they'll have mainstream rock radio success because of it. Musically, this band is even more Meshuggah influenced than the others, so on the songs where he stays away from the clean vocal they sound really good (there's only one where he stays away from it completely, and another where he does until the last minute or so). But holy crap, that irritating vocal style makes the power ballads (like "Light" or "All New Materials") unlistenable. Even though these guys sound different from the others (a little), I can't shake how much all of these bands sound the same, with each of them using the same weird techniques they probably learned on Youtube. Throw in the faux old-timey carnival promoter joke at the end of "Icarus Lives!" (an annoying attempt at being charmingly funny), and the fact "Racecar" is about twice as long as it should be, and I could barely get through this album. I give it 1 out of 5 stars.

I went into this thing with the attitude that I was really going to like these, since they're all Meshuggah lovers like me. It turns out I was wrong. I think part of the problem is, the sound they're going for is not dynamic--it's all processed and played through modern-style amps, no tubes involved. Shame.


  1. I have pretty much avoided most of the bands referred to as "djent". It's basically taking over the mantle as mainstream-friendly metal from deathcore. From the description of the psuedogenre, I just don't think I would enjoy it very much. I'm not a big fan of the recent Meshuggah sound, much preferring their early technical thrash stuff from Contradictions Collapse. So bands focused on furthering the new Meshuggah sound don't really appeal to me.

  2. As a fan of the "genre", or at least a good portion of the bands that have been spawned from it, I respectfully disagree with some of your statements on Cloudkicker and Periphery, I definitely see your point about them, and you are not alone in your sentiments. I can see how you think that this is the deathcore of 2010-2011(?, maybe further on as well), but I think that deathcore was a genre where a lot of bands sounded the same, I think in djent, at least you're getting a bit of variety from band to band. Thanks for reading all of this by the way.

  3. Hmmm, interesting. Doesn't really sound like it would be "my thing" but interesting nonetheless.