Heavy Metal: A Brief Guide to the Djent Revolution

Posted on December 26, 2012

2012 has been a great year for metal fans, and in particular, for the more mature metal fan.  Maybe you’ve noticed, the headbanging demographic has slowly been changing, as seen best by “That Metal Show”:

There are lots of great metal bands, but a lot of our old favorites fail to really evolve and after decades of rockin’ to Slayer, Megadeth, Pantera, etc, you just need something new, something more evolved, and complex. A critical element of metal is that its stimulating, not just aggressive, and some of the old stand by bands are just too familiar.

Three bands really forged a new era in the evolution of death metal (if you are unfamiliar with the topology of the various metal sub-genres you’ll really enjoy exploring the progression with the Map of Metal), those bands are:

  • Meshuggah
  • Periphery
  • Animals as Leaders

From these bands came an explosive new sub-genre which became known as “Djent”.  Some attributes that define Djenty metal are:

  • Extensive use of palm muting.  This makes typical metal triplets sound very crisp.
  • Unusual timings and song progressions.  This was previously seen in many math-metal bands, and these songs do not follow the horrifically boring old intro-verse-chorus-verse-solo-chorus-chorus-end model.  The unusual timings means that there are lots of rhythmic changes and sudden “left turns” that transform the song quickly, as opposed to the old way of having a single primary riff that you simply play around with for 4-5 minutes. This is similar to Jazz. If you don’t understand what I mean, listen to “Buttersnips” below and see how many times the song changes course in just the first 30-60 seconds.
  • Virtuoso Guitar Playing.  The guitar work in djent is very complex, very layered, and commonly utilizes 8 and 12 string guitars, providing for chord progressions that are incredibly deep and rich.

So lets look at two examples.

First, Animals as Leaders. This band is 100% instrumental. They have draw many jazz guitar fans because they share so many elements of jazz guitar. If you enjoy both hard rock/heavy metal and jazz musicians like Pat Metheny, they are for you:

Second is Periphery. Proof that more guitars means better music. This track, “Buttersnips”, got some air-play and drew a number of people into the genre:

Meshuggah is actually credited with coining the term Djent, but their music is much more bass dominated than other bands that are being looped into the genre and while there are Meshuggah songs I really like, on the whole I’m not a fan. Most “djenty” songs are almost like 4-5 songs in one, because of the twists and turns they take, whereas Mushuggah is much more traditional and linear (on the whole).

Like DevOps, whats important about the word “Djent”, more than its specific meaning, is that it provides a rallying point to explore and find other music and fans. Some other bands that I really enjoy (“djenty ness” may be debated, but I loop them all in):

  • Chimp Spanner: Instrumental, highly recommended for Animals as Leaders fans.
  • Tesseract: I’m less interested in them personally, but they are a pillar of Djent
  • Structures
  • Born of Osiris: Loosely coupled into Djent, but elements are there
  • Textures: Recommended for fans of Kings X
  • Volumes
  • Circles
  • Aliases
  • Benea Reach
  • Extol: An old band that I fell in love with many years ago, but for the same reasons I enjoy the new Djent bands, I own the entire Extol catalog. Check this out to see what I mean, like Djent it keeps morphing, changing, and uses unusual timing to keep it interesting.

Notice a trend in the names? I recommend getting on iTunes, sampling some of the bands above and then exploring what others bought to find new and interesting bands.

Not down with the djenty groove? Other bands that are worth your while, outside the boundaries of Djent, that you should check out if you’ve been away from metal for a while, including:

  • Baroness: I liked the “Blue” and “Red” albums, the new “Yellow & Green” album didn’t do it for me.
  • Chimaira: “The Age of Hell” was an amazing album
  • Gojira: This years “L’enfant suvage” album was amazing
  • Mastodon: Always good and getting better, I love that they have 2 singers which really adds depth. “The Hunter” was a great release, and the fact that they write albums to be listened to all the way by having continuous themes makes them great. “Crack the Skye” was great, “Blood Mountain” was great, but I think “Leviathan” remains my personal favorite

Finally… lets never forgot that “Motorhead” is still rocking hard and hasn’t gotten old yet. “WE ARE MOTORHEAD AND WE PLAY ROCK ‘N ROLL!” Always, Lemmy, always.