Monday, February 20, 2012

All the kids are Djenting!

For today's post, I have a critique on the musical style known as "Djent".  My initial goal with this blog was to consistently switch up between topics.  However, since music has been a big focus lately, I guess the first couple will be music related.  :)

Who Cares?
"Djent" is a heavy metal sub-genre that has recently become popular and has turned into a distinctive style, with a collection of bands that can be attached to it and a fan base specifically following it.  I have a tendency to try and resist the inertia inherent in heavy metal culture that rejects movements like this, often labeling them "trends".  It is important for the life of the culture to be open minded to what the kids are doing, because it keeps us vital.  Despite negative attitudes always present on forums like, it would be pretty lame if we all just imitate Carcass and Testament forever (not to say that's not a worthy goal).  Every trend in metal has had it's ups and downs; remember the "metalcore" of about 5-8 years ago?  Essentially, a large number of bands on the east coast of the United States came about with a style imitating swedish metal greats, while adding a classic east-coast hard-core influence.  As with all movements, there are a number of great bands that came out of that time (Lamb of God, Arsis, The Black Dahlia Murder), and of course a whole fleet of duds and lifeless imitators (Avenged Sevenfold, All that Remains and Terror being among the worst offenders).  All forms of popular music are full of misses however, and we should therefore give djent its chance to wow us.  The collection of LOG and Black Dahlia in my iTunes is justification enough for the metalcore movement by itself.

An Overview of Djent
Sonically, I would describe djent as having the following properties:

  • A very distinctive guitar sound, typically using 7 or 8 string guitars run through high-end, shredder-style gear.  Usually very tight, heavily compressed and noise-gated, and frequently using digital guitar amp tone (or at least what sounds like digital tone), ala Line 6, Johnson-Millenium, Amplitube etc.  
  • Staccato, palm muted riffs ala Meshuggah, intermixed with Satriani-ish guitar virtuoso solos.  
  • Proggy odd times and busy drumming, and some times Meshuggah-style polyrhythms.  
  • A mix of clean singing and traditional metal screaming.  
  • Intermixed ambient moments, using synths and other effects.  
  • A very polished sound.  Always recorded digitally and heavily processed.  Drums are frequently sampled, and are either step-programmed, triggered or sound-replaced.  
I will talk history as well as introduce what I think are some of the key bands of the scene below.  The real inventors of the genre are Periphery and Textures, although I do not recommend them as a listening starting point.  Instead, as I talk about below, if you are a big metal fan I recommend starting with Vildjharta, if not, TesseracT.

A Brief History of Djent
I think one of the interesting things about djent is that it is really the first major metal movement to have purely grown up on the internet.  It is thus not regional, like metalcore was to the east coast of the US.  Djent is global, and the key bands of the scene are scattered all over the world.  As mentioned previously, djent has a pretty obvious Meshuggah influence.  In fact, Mårten Hagström coined the term in an interview when he described their guitar sound as "it just goes like djent, djent, djent".  Also, many djent recordings use Toontrack's "Drumkit from Hell", which is actually samples of Tomas Haake from Meshuggah's drum kit.  However, I find it difficult to lump Meshuggah themselves into djent.  While Meshuggah's music is very abstract, djent seems to be much more straightforward and listenable to the average user.

While djent has now formed into a sizeable community (see, it started as a series of small bands posting just internet demos since the early 2000s.  The first I remember of djent is actually the postings my bandmates Matt and Jacob showed me on from a guy with screen name "Bulb".  Misha "Bulb" Mansoor from Bethesda, Maryland is founder of the band Periphery, and I believe is the real pioneer of the djent sound.  Another early pioneer is Textures from the Netherlands, as well as TesseracT from the UK a few years later.  Today, djent has flowered into a scene full of bands.  I will give a brief critique of each of these bands I mentioned, as well as Vildjharta from Sweden, which is my current favorite.

Instrumentals and Djent
As a quick tangent, there have also been a recent trend of instrumental bands, some of whom have some relation to djent (Animals as Leaders, Cloudkicker).  I think these bands are really kind of a different thing, and deserve their own post at a later date.


The early Periphery demos were awesome.  It's pretty clear that Bulb wanted to turn his stuff into a full band for some time.  Periphery went though a long period of lineup changes, and changes to the original music as a result.  As I heard the original version of "Walk", which had a different vocalist and much rawer tones, I find the current Periphery stuff to be a kind of stale imitation of the originals.

Periphery's stuff now is, well, typical djent.  Mix of clean vocals and not, heavy at points, wanky at points.  I still have high hopes for this band, and they are interesting and deserve the credit for pioneering a genre.  I just don't think they're all that interesting to listen to.

I think of Textures from the Netherlands in a similar light to Periphery.  They certainly deserve credit for being pioneers of a new sound.  However, their songs have always felt dry to me.  Their heavy is not that heavy, and their songs seem to lack depth.  Some of their music feels a bit too "twinkly" to me.  A common problem with djent bands is that the heavily cleaned up and processed sound loses some of the crushing nature that originally came from the Meshuggah influence.  Textures is interesting, but somewhat forgettable.

TesseracT from the UK is another band started by one guy (Acle Kahney) that has had demos kicking around for many years while he built a lineup.  Like Periphery, TesseracT's songs also lacked some oomph when they found their final lineup.  However, I find that TesseracT's music has kept it's interest in another way.  They have always been more ambient and more prog than some of their cousins.  One (their debut album) is a good start-to-finish journey, and is probably a good start for fans of bands like Tool and Rush.  They punctuate a sort of ambient journey with bits of heaviness.

Vildhjarta is a younger band from Sweden.  They are currently my favorite of the djent sound.  While still being pretty clearly djent, they bring in a certain obvious death metal influence, and really put the heavy back in the sound.  Their riffs are aggressive, their singers don't quite sound so teenage (even though they look like they're about 19).  I really like this band, and I have their debut album Måsstaden in regular rotation.  I recommend this to any metal head who is not sure about djent.  Just remember that it's NOT Meshuggah, and you'll like it.

In Conclusion
Give djent a fair shake.  I'm sure it will churn out tons of bands that suck, and some that we just decide we like for 15 minutes and then discard.  But metal should always evolve, and every generation should build their own classics.

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