This week’s Monday Mixtape is continuing the series exploring some of the foundations of what made up the MPH radio show while it is on haitus from KAOS Radio Austin. In previous weeks there’s been quite a bit of nostalgia for me as we touched on genres that were highly influential on both my own personal listening over the years and my career in music marketing. Unlike doing the radio show, putting together these “tapes” has been about my personal critiques of the music and the genres. It explored the depths of my knowledge without the influence of the show and it’s listener expectations as well as my programming mind. Thus while I’m compiling these lists this way each time I revisit a band I remember another band and another to go back and listen to. So, I now have about ten concepts in my head for one of these.
Last week I did part one of the history of metalcore. I didn’t feel like creating part two right away but I did stumble upon another fun idea and that was to disect: djent. Much like metalcore (and rap-metal from the week before that, and the scream-sing vocal approach before that, etc.), it’s a maligned, but has a really interesting backstory before it became all predictable, cliche and boring (or so I’m told but dudes who haven’t even listened anything pre-2000. Maybe they weren’t even born before then?)
Djent is an an onomatopoeia of the now distinctive guitar tone the genre is infamous for incorporating to the point of obsessive compulsion. In its original form the palm muted, high-gain low-end sound was mostly born of the miracle of ingenuity in the guitarist’s rigs but in the modern era of digital processing there are plenty of other ways to make that sound.
The rest of the (sub)genre outside of the guitar tone can be expressed as a hybrid of prog, thrash, death, groove and industrial – depending on which band is aligning to which set of underlying influences (or where you saw spinoffs end up, such as “deathcore”). While they don’t all incorporate the same compositional structure there’s a continuity to most of their sonic structure, off-time usually staccato riffing, thick chugging bridge passages (like breakdowns), noodly guitar wanking and usually some kind of “progressive” or “technical” take on the songwriting without necessarily being outright prog or tech itself.
While a bedroom-and-basement community grew around artists like Misha Mansoor, who is famed to have coined the name “djent,” and a number of other millennial artists who cultivated the exploration of what could be done with the sound compositionally (and sonically) the roots are deeper than is typically given credit for. The experimental mentality of the community and it’s self-distribution scheme is why many of the bands claim foundation dates a half decade or more than the first actual releases you can directly attribute to them. Nonetheless, this journey will both rewind to before
Jud Jud xthedemosx 1986 – No, I am not fucking around. This IS where we are starting. The band’s entire premise IS onomatopoeia. Not just onomatopoeia but staccato riffing with a dirty bottom end. While hardcore kids of a certain disposition probably love this for a different reason most djent kids have no idea this even exists but owe everything in their genre to it. Thus, it is impossible to not include.
Meshuggah “Vanished” Destroy Erase Improve 1995 – While earlier Meshuggah was accused of being a ripoff of bands like Metallica and Deliverance in their style, and deservedly so, DEI was a sonic pivot which would change the trajectory of the metal world blowing out what the Selfcaged EP explored earlier in the year. The template for modern djent is usually referenced directly DEI but at the time the band and particularly Fredrick Thorendal’s apprach felt extraordinarily unique, even if it didn’t occur quite in the isolation revisionist minds would like to think (which is why this mixtape doesn’t end here).
Fear Factory “Replica” Demanufacture 1995 – Proto-industrial, techo-death, pre-core mavens Fear Factory have been tagged with a lot of subgenres over the years. No one ever seemed to know quite what to do with them but if you think about the construction of the song: the tightness of, well, everything in the main riff; that deep, dark open chord and introduction of the melody going into the chorus; the combination of big groove and military type precision; the fact that it was a progressive concept to use them all, along with the throaty gutteral vocals offset by the clean singing. I would argue that’s the template for djent as much as Meshuggah because it has many of the same elements of the modern conceptualization even though it’s not as focused singularly on the guitar tone. The previous touched on it but lacked that ability to “settle in” how the band really pocketed here and to see their most recent works being backhandedly called djent might only further the point.
Strapping Young Lad “Detox” City 1997 – While 95’s Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing touched repeatedly on the palm muted staccato, drop tuning and groove laden riffing thing, however you want to define it, even if it was still off-the-mark because SYLs sound was still congealing. While reigning in Devin is, well, a might bit insane of a concept, City began to show greater definition. If by about the 3:00 mark if the idea of djent wasn’t already outlined that psuedo breakdown should just about tracing-paper it out for you. The big-D’s affect and effect are awkward, but then again, that’s the point of SYL to begin with, and the cross-section of vocalizations only helps to reinforce D-town’s inadvertent influence to the genre.
Sevendust “Bitch” 7dust 1997 – The alt-groove-numetal upstarts from Atlanta would aren’t your typical pre-djent band to include at first glance. However, consider the palm muting and drop tuning, consider the varying dynamics and compositional Sevendust were using (that many, many of the other artists lumped with them were not) and even consider the riff design and some of the vocal approach were it blends the semi-gutteral and clean melodies. Even if the influence was inadvertent, the popularity of Sevendust and the bands that tried to clone them likely had an effect on the genre as it developed later.
Sikth “Such the Fool” Let the Transmitting Begin 2002 – The awkward faux-numetal meets hybrid-something-something-prog really wants to not be any of its underlying genres but the muting on the riffs combined with the experimentation of the rest of the composition gets into what aspects of the genre, and more importantly the band, would become later.
Killswitch Engage “Life to Lifeless” Alive or Just Breathing 2002 – They’re rarely categorized as djent or listed as an influence. And, probably for good reason as these melodic-metalcorers usually have little in common with what’s become the cliche of the genre. However, the Meshuggah-esque intro that wraps around in the song a couple of times and some of the other elements of the song’s construction harken to very similar attributes found in the djent template. It doesn’t hurt as the band’s sophmore effort it helped launch them, and this single, into the mainstream.
Mnemic “Liquid” Mechanical Spin Phenomena 2003 – Proto-industrial psuedu-numetal Danish experimentalists hit upon a sound Fear Factory was abondining and few-if-any other bands were attempting to create it. The result is more-than-hauntintly djent-ish in a reject-industrial sort of way but not quite embrace prog-metal or death the way bands later in the development cycle would.
A Life Once Lost “Surreal Atrocities” A Great Artist 2003 – The debut Open Your Mouth for the Speechless (2000) touched on the beginning moments into the opening track but they didn’t commit to the idea till three years later on their sophomore effort. By that point they were so-committed that the joke was they were literally the Meshuggah of the hardcore punk scene, a scene that was more metalcore than anything else at the time.
Lamb of God “Ruin” As the Palaces Burn 2003 – at the time the tight muting on the riffs drifting off into the open down-tuning even with the brutal breakdown at 2:55 was mostly thought as of an adaptation of New American Gospel with a more Pantera-esque vibe the reality is it was a outright assault on what would become key elements of the djent sound in what was once referred to by me as the nu-metalling of Meshuggah. My how I was right and wrong at the same time.
Textures “Swandive” Polaris 2003 – Lost in the Listenable catalog is the debut by Textures embracing everything the djent genre would become and because of Texture’s later approach in bridging progressive melodic development their lost catalog would be a forgotten foundation work to the genre itself.
Byzantine “Stoning Judas” the Fundamental Component 2004 – Broadmoor, a year earlier, touched on the complexity of both the composition and execution but the band’s effective label debut really, well, out SYL’d Devin and co. at their own game and the of-center mutted chuggah riffs, overtly progressive flair, attempts at balancing breakdowns and solos and, of course, the vocals isn’t given nearly enough credit for predating djent as we describe it today even if the band might never have indented it.
Reflux “Above the Pyramid” Illusion of Democracy 2004 – Tosin Abasi shreds the shit out of the album to the point where the pre-djent sound he helped define is almost lost in the excessiveness of songs likes this, but if you strip away the awkward over-the-topness of his playing and excessive compositional structures for the genre it’s all there raw and undefined version of what Animals as Leaders would do a decade later.
Chimp Spanner “Spirals” Imperium Vorago 2005 – Paul Ortiz basically does it all on the self-released debut. It’s not just his musicianship, it’s the DIY ethic that provided the album the notoriety it had and eventually landed the project a record deal and a re-release of an large back-catalog of music. But, the music is genre defying at times encapsulating aspects of what djent is know for while also allowing it to be spacey ambient and progressive.
Becoming the Archetype “Into Oblivion” Terminate Damnation 2005 – Granted, BtA would go on to explore genres at a rate not unlike former label mates Extol, like them they’d accidentally stumble upon a great many genre setting ideas, such as at 1:08 and again at 5:08 where they pull out a tight, palm muted riffing that’s directly off-set during the bridges utilizing an open string phrasing while the song is an illustrious and progressive six minutes (on an album that does all these same cues a lot in over five minute affairs). The vocals, the abstracts in the drumming, etc. all harken to the djent sonic schema while never quite falling squarely into it.
After the Burial “A Steady Decline” Forging a Future Self 2006 – The Corrosive Records debut is the only to feature the band’s original lineup and draws up a djenty-metalcore vibe while incorporating some other tech influences when it suited them. The result is both moshable and airguitarble in equal parts that with a revised lineup they’d continue to refine and redefine.
Veil of Maya All things Set Aside 2006 – Similar to ATB, VoM’s Corrosive Records debut is the only to feature the band’s original lineup and also draws upon a very tech inspired vibe while incorperating a lot of the effects that are associated heavily with the djent sound later including that tight breakdown at about the 1:00 mark. They’re more death than ATB which is why they are sometimes included in the foundation of the spinoff “deathcore” genre.
Fellsilent “Age Of Deception” The Double A 2006 – The short lived project would eventually give birth to Monuments but the influence on the (sub)genre’s sound is undoubtedly there immediately on the debut. It’s clunky and chuggy and raw and draws heavily on an approach that at times feels like a refinement of where ALOL were touching earlier in the decade.
Destrage “Art for Free” Urban Being 2007 – There are a lot of djenty moments on the debut album without it ever really feeling like it fully qualifies as a typical djent release but it’s undeniable how similar so many moments are to both the roots of the (sub)genre and it’s future.
Born of Osiris “Empires Erased” The New Reign 2007 – Building off the ideas of the Narnia demo from about a half a year earlier BOO’s debut full-length essentially straddles the line between what was becoming deathcore cliche and what was already djent-influenced cliche.
Periphery “Icarus lives” P! 2010 – A decade after “Vanished” the quote-unquote quintessential djent album is finally released the band that helped “coin” the (sub)genre’s name finally debuts. Hey, I love P! but it’s hardly unique, original or groundbreaking by this point and yet in a very short time after this release the floodgates open, there are djent bands at a-dime-a-dozen being scooped up by every imaginable label, anything even remotely similar is being repackaged and marketed as djent and the sound is overrun with clones despite the beauty of it’s origins it feels unidimensional and watered down.
Have I missed someone? Sure, because I’m almost positive once even the most black-hearted 1990s metalhead gets a hold of this they are going to realize some sound I’ve more than obviously missed… the question is can they get over their disdain for the modern interpretation to allow themselves to concede its roots…? Afterall, djent is as much a marketing scheme as grunge, stoner, screamo, numetal, NWOAHM and so many more umbrella terms are in the subgenrification of msuic.