Devil’s Symphony: How Classical Evolved Into Metal Music

Beethoven’s Romantic Spirit Escapes No Child Of Music

Getty Images/Steffen Kugler
Beethoven Wax Figure

It’s too easy to tell them apart.

Beethoven Sleeping

Let’s start with Classical music.
Mozart, Vivaldi or Beethoven sound relaxed, soothing, and classy. Music is composed of keys and strings that’s just perfect for going to sleep or studying. Its association with academia, intellect, suits and bow ties makes it a bit elitist, and this “Mozart Effect” thing definitely isn’t helping. For the youth, all that formality can be really boring. However, it has the heaviest history in all of music, and studying it demands a great deal of discipline. To love it truly, you need to appreciate it with a cup of herbal tea.

Beethoven Is Now Awake

Now let’s go to Heavy Metal.
At their hardest, their songs are filled with heavy riffs, amplitude, adrenaline and machismo, exploring uncomfortable things like sex, drugs and violence and is the very celebration of youth revolt and freedom. They are anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-conformity and pretty much anti everything except for their fans. The music has this way of provoking you, where you will either rock to it or close your ears. It has the heaviest music in all of history. Still, it is the last thing you wanna hear when it’s time to sleep.

Or so you think.

What if I told you that Classical really evolved to Metal?

Now let’s look at how they mirror each other…

1. Theater is their real game. Though a solo concerto might look, sound and smell a bit different from a live Metal performance, musicians will make the show like their payroll depends on it. If they can’t make it big by fitting some 100 performers onto the stage into the chamber, they’ll amplify it so loud that the heavens can hear it. This is what is called capitalizing on our “love of the grandiose”.

2. From this cool study we found, a Dr North says that their personality reflects their music taste in some manner. They are generally creative, dreamy and experimental. So this generally means that they build little worlds in their heads as their bodies move to the music, or don’t. They have a strange sense of attraction to their music, one could say borders on the obsessive.

He might have lived in a world of formal ballrooms, bow ties, chandeliers and fancy wigs, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart didn’t really act that way all the time. What do I mean?

He partied, he blew his money, he drank it away. I’m sure it parallels a lot of bands and musicians. He lived it up and didn’t set anything aside and he died poor. That’s rock ’n’ roll.
– Cam Pipes, 3 Inches Of Blood on Mozart

3. There is a complex jungle of instruments all howling, weeping, barking, hissing at the same time, and somehow the listener is still supposed to be able make sense of what the hell is going on. Think about how a composer for an orchestral symphony would have to guide violins, bass, percussion, wind, brass, double bass…just like how the metal musician needs to harmonize a noisy electric guitar, drums, screaming, into a melody. It’s like turning a zoo into a choir.

Why is Heavy Metal called Heavy Metal?
It’s tough question you could ask a pure Metal fan, as most origin stories usually are. So far the most widely accepted one is that this guy called Led Zeppelin got the idea from this band called Iron Butterfly, thought that “Led as in Lead the metal element” would be one cool pun and I guess this Black Sabbath thought it was cool too and thus, the “metal” genre went mainstream.

You might have noticed too, that it all came from the British.

Vivaldi Beethoven Chibi Musiceon4. Musicians from today and from centuries ago make a career out of their talents in the exact same way, drawing commissions by playing playing live for people. Rock stars get their paycheck from selling out arenas in the modern era while Beethoven gets it from performing for VIP patrons like Archduke Rudolpe of Austria or Prince Lobkowitz of Vienna.

5. Both genres have gone through long periods of evolution in their sounds and their instruments. Classical music in itself came from the earlier Baroque theater and blossomed into Romantic music thanks to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Metal was the result of intense experimentation with new kinds of musical style and imagery as bands sought to be more hardcore and visceral than the others. Even as we speak, new genres are already budding off these old ones.

6. Metal does not represent genius in the same way as classical. Not because trashy people aren’t smart, but because you need a different lens to see it. Classical is normally seen as proof of artistic genius because somebody like Beethoven, nearly deaf by the way, relied on his creativity and fighting spirit to keep on composing. However, we usually forget the technical genius that came from people who experimented with sounds that lead to today’s electric guitar.

A UK College even considered pioneering a degree course in Heavy Metal in early 2013.

7. Both genres are alive, in spite of Pop and Hip Hop music dominating the charts. This is because they have been incorporated into our culture. They still linger around us, having shares in movies, clothing and especially games. The violin brings us back to Classical music, to people like Vivaldi. The electric guitar’s unique sound, loud and bizarre, evokes the rock bands who first played them. So as long as someone cares to be a Goth, that culture will never die.

8. Classical v Metal have always been seen as two polar opposites. The former, whose performers are wear perfectly tailored suits and practice their profession with a level of discipline that’s even scarier than martial arts look so different than the metal guitarists who don leather jacket and ripped jeans, who then for some reason decide to further rip their jackets while performing like they can do whatever the hell they want. Angels and demons. It is also worth noting that these genres are best when they are performed live. Of course, this requires the use of Graham Slee HiFi equipment to make sure the sound quality is brilliant.

9. Artists of the Metal genre get exposed a lot, filling their songs with lots of controversy by boldly experimenting Satanic themes. They even have the advantage of technology and globalization, where one song can reach the whole world with the right marketing. Yet they struggle against classical music, a genre that is still seen as classy after centuries. Have you realized how pretty much anyone in the civilized world, no matter what genre of music they like, will know one classical piece or another?

That awkward moment when you realize that anyone can hum Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Beethoven 5th SymphonyHow could 4 notes like that be so legendary?

The story of how German composer Beethoven (c. 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) came up with his 5th Symphony is beyond cool. For years, his hearing got worse but he was too stubborn to give up music, so he just kept it secret.

Avoiding company, he used music as his refuge and the avenue to vent all his frustrations, promising to himself “I will seize Fate by the throat. It will not wholly conquer me!” At age 30, being very close to 100% deaf, “Fate” literally came to “knock” at the door.

Beethoven 5th Knock SymphonyGuess what, he heard it.

How did music evolve then?

Let’s go back to Beethoven. For the sake of illustrating this timeline, we’re gonna put him in every era so…let’s pretend that he knew how to time travel. Okay mister Ludwig?

Beethoven MusiceonOf course, nothing in this timeline occurs in silo, because yeah. Please assume one era is going through all the events listed, just that the one you’re reading is the most notable event from that era. And yes, it’s a predominantly Western timeline.

Medieval (c. 500-1400)
De MachautIt was very late down here when music was being documented as a new form of art, just like sculpture, literature and painting. With the invention of Ars Antique, you have your Church choir and the Muslim call to prayer. Then you have the Ars Nova technique, thanks to French composer Guillaume de Machaut, which is basically how a typical Hip Hop song is made: Merge 2 or more scales into one song just like this. Music geeks call it “polyphony.”

This is when music is being documented.

Renaissance (c. 1400-1600)
Renaissance Beethoven MusiceonThis was the period where music was developing its highly complex language, old schools of thought like Greek or Roman music were re-visited, and with the invention of print, it was getting widely distributed. Political stability, wealth and music education let Europeans put music itself under a big microscope so that they could study it.

In this period, music was like a think thank.

Baroque (c. 1600-1750)
Beethoven Musiceon Baroque TheaterThis was when exploring old music became boring, so they decided to experiment with some things. Music became like a cookbook, as they carefully detailed the ingredients for each recipe. How to start the music, how to build up and how to end it in the most epic way possible. Hence the term, “masterpiece”. If you’re thinking pastry, the correct picture would be a nice, large, highly decorated birthday cake. It was really from here that the “class” in classical music emerged, including all the grandiose halls. They realized that different music taste differently, and gives different feels.

It was the birth of musical genres.

Classical (c. 1730-1820)
Beethoven Classical EraThis was a highly disciplined era in the chamber, where it was all about the perfect execution of whatever’s on paper. If you’re in a huge orchestra of 100 people on keynotes, bass, percussion, woodwinds and vocals, every single one of you is expected to synchronize your brainwaves with everybody else in your troupe. You don’t sleep until it’s perfect, just like if you were practicing K-Pop dance choreography. Everyone is watching you. Performers like Beethoven had to train since 8 years old just to catch up to Mozart in his prime.

It was the birth of the theater.

Romantic (c. 1820-1910)
Beethoven Looks At Beethoven Portrait

Music is the mediator between between the spiritual and the sensual life.
– Ludwig van Beethoven

This was when music took on meaning. Composers like Tchaikovsky and Paganini sought to evoke some kind of thought, reaction and emotion in their music. Beethoven is credited with pioneering it because of his 5th Symphony, where the inspiration, unfortunately, came from all that pent-up frustration and suffering. It was one of those rare times where someone composed music not because of money but because he was emotional. It was amazing because you could show your feelings through music.

Music has the power to move people.

Contemporary I: Rock (c. 1901-1950)
Beethoven rock concertWith the world shrinking, it’s when people from different cultures come together. Problem was, the tribal African-American R&B sound wasn’t similar to the hillbilly style of the Country, and music only worsened this social divide. A new kind of music was needed to unite people together, and the target audience needed to be the youth, who grew up not knowing why they there’s racial tension, why they always need to dress, eat, talk in this way, why can’t I just kiss this cute guy, why they can’t go to that place.

This is how Rock music emerged: A mix of musical styles borrowed from all genres, amplified through loud electric guitars. It was the place where the youth could vent and basically point a middle finger to the adults who put all those stupid rules in place. This time, music was made not just because Beethoven was stressed, but because everybody was stressed.

It was the symbol of rebellion.

Contemporary II: Metal (c. 1950-present)

Beethoven gothic girlsNow this is where it gets real interesting.

We got into Music Chemistry. Technology, not just electricity, was starting to creep into the woodwork of guitars and cellos, drums and cymbals, making them all much more complicated than before. As we go “down the period”, Metal literally gets heavier on the ear. Time and again, we “discover” that we can make more powerful chords, speedier staccatos, louder screaming and distort distorted distortions. Music has become an engineering science, “experimented” to such a limit that you can’t tell if it’s the band, the construction site, or Satan himself playing.

Rock pngHow much Metal can we extract from this Rock?

There is this “morbid curiosity” distinguishes this new genre from Rock. Once we learn that monsters under the bed are not real, we want to know why where the hell this silly idea came from. As Rock became more saturated, musicians needed to find something more “bad-ass” than what they were doing. And what better way to do that than to evoke some kind of unknown, ancient Evil?

Naturally, it incorporates the darkest themes such as devil worship, sex cults, anarchy, Dracula, space aliens that must surely scare the hell out of you so much that you come back over and over again. This is where music delves into horror and dark fantasy: It’s not that we want to be dark and creepy, but we want to know what’s inside it. It’s why a Jedi would turn to the dark side. Old tales like Elizabeth Báthory come back alive because it’s so surreal.

Music is dark escapism in this genre

We want individual power. The commercial success of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal from the 1970s helped to spur a new trend that’s becoming more prevalent in our lives, whether we realize it or not. As the more pressing political and social problems waned, people’s problems become more individualistic and a little bit more more self-absorbed. What “we want” is slowly becoming what “I want”.

The demand has shifted: We don’t just want to be “empowered” spiritually by music, we want it to freaking give us superpowers. Of sorts. The concept of Satanism emerged from here, and if a musician decides to adopt it, he can make lots of money but has to live with the association forever. Hence the term “selling your soul to the Devil”.

“I went there anyway-knowingly, willingly-because I wanted a #1 hit. I wanted what Metallica had, even if it meant selling a piece of my soul to the devil.”
– Dave Mustaine, Megadeth

Rock opens your cage, and Metal gives you wings. And a chainsaw, machine gun, pet demon…

Is it possible for music to die?
What’s great about music when it evolves, is that you get to retain the “original ancestor”. As long as it is documented and preserved, people 500 years later can look at it and find out what music looked like 500 years ago, then they can choose to replicate or improve upon it. Even when there is a part of the world in 2014 where music is actively banned, it will at most, go back to the Medieval period of Ars Antique. When the ban is lifted and music is explored again, you’ll have a brand new Renaissance period.

Beethoven ISISUnlike a “species”, music doesn’t “die out”. It can still “spawn” back to life.

Beethoven ISISFor musical genres however, like Heavy Metal here, there’s a basic set of criteria need it needs to fulfill for survival. Using life in a modern, developed city:

Culture: Do people associate themselves with the “style” of Metal, incorporating it into things their fashion, speech, fantasy, pet name and Twitter updates?
Enterprise: Does Heavy Metal have a huge enough consumer base to merit the money that will be spent on musicians, production and marketing?
Academia: Does Heavy Metal trigger a new inquiry in big subjects like philosophy, technology, politics etc. enough to produce a think thank with established thinkers?
Authority: Does it openly challenge an influential, established Government or Religion that has the power to silence it? And no, “haters” are not in this mix.

There’s a lot more then these four, but in short it survives only if a lot of people care enough.

The biggest perk of this era is really how far we’ve come to remove the old technological, geographic, social and political barriers to the best of our ability just to allow music to evolve a bit faster. The King Of Pop might not be around anymore, but his legacy is forever. Heck, we’re even trying to make the musicians come back, like Tupac’s hologram.

Remember how nothing in music history occurs in silo? Yeah. We’re still experiencing those bits and pieces that happened in each era. As it progresses, Metal by itself is already diffusing into different continents and happily getting cozy with Eastern culture, who are definitely no strangers to creepy stories and things that go bump in the night.

Which is actually them trashing a dorm room.

Speaking of stories, here are some randomly picked Myths of Heavy Metal:

1. “Metal can’t survive without the electric guitar.”
The novel backbone of Heavy Metal is not the electric guitar, but the sound of the electric guitar. The best proof of this are sub-genres of Symphonic Metal and Cello Rock. Apocalyptica and Rasputina were pioneers of experimenting with the last instrument we’d expect to align itself with metal, the cello. Her sleek, beautiful curved body is made of the world’s finest wood, and has always been compared to a woman’s beauty.

But looks can be deceiving, because the cello is one of the most versatile instruments out there. This time, this fine lady is expressing her untamed side. Incorporating musical styles that involve ridiculously quick staccato bursts, they distorted and amplified the cello’s sound with electricity.

Hey, they did say that the devil rides on a fiddlestick.

Then you have Nightwish and Rhapsody Of Fire, who invited choir and opera into their fold and did some tweaking to the piano, imbuing symphonic keynotes.

2. “Metal heads have low self-esteem and will cut themselves.”
The negative “emo” personality traits aren’t defined by the music they listen to, but the social environment. Metal heads like to separate themselves from the “emo”, since they don’t really have self-esteem problems so bad that they would inflict self-harm. The only problem they normally have is the extreme devotion to their faith that leads to self-flagellation.

I’m just kidding…I think.

3. “Metal music is bad for your brain.”
This prejudice toward heavy music and the brain came from the elitist circle of Baroque music lovers, but then again it also likes to mainstream music in general brainless. There’s just no hard evidence that your brain deteriorates in any way with Metal. Know that a lot of bright kids have Metal as favorite genre too, and their IQ has never taken a dip.

4. “Metal bands cultivate a violent, vulgar cult that hates everyone.”
Unfortunately, this has become Metal’s biggest stereotype. Fans of Metal are just in love with their “dark entertainment” the same way we sometimes like to secretly wish the villain would win. They’re not the ones to believe that good guys win all the time. In most cases it’s just a mood or a taste.

5. “Metal is just purely Satanic music.”
Sure, Metal does adopt a lot of Satanic imagery and themes in its music. However, this does not mean that they want you to draw pentagrams all over the place and worship the devil. There are such things like Christian Metal bands such as Tourniquet, ya know.

6. “Only men can play Heavy Metal. Women have no place here.”
Wrong. While male bands like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson may have paved the way for male aggression in the genre, the ladies of Metal are both rough and beautiful.

7. “They just know how to curse and scream. They can’t sing.”
It actually takes a ridiculous amount of talent to shape one’s vocal chords to be able to scream into the mic the way these performers do. They’re fully aware of the risks involved, but they know how to take care of themselves. Still, nice melodic singing does exist in a lot of Metal songs too.

Lyrically, if you find a metal song extremely offensive, then you may vent your anger at these “founding fathers” of Metal bands namely Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer.

Ask Beethoven OkayIf you told Beethoven that you can make some cool music with guttural voices of somebody screaming, would he believe you? Hey, maybe he will. If you find rasping, growling, hissing sounds in songs that already chaotic, bands like Death and Venom are the ones responsible.

Sing For Beethoven

8. “Eastern culture is still too conservative to embrace Metal.”
The top genres embraced by East Asia are hugely Western, but Metal is admittedly the slowest to be admitted. This is because in most cities in Asia, such as Beijing, Seoul and Singapore, life is a grand hustle to drive economic growth. They just don’t relate to all the weird things in Western culture. Entertainment wise, if the music brings in money, it will be embraced first. Right now Pop dominates the region because the demand for sugary, eye candy bands bring in the most sustainable profits.

But Beethoven’s Romantic spirit escapes no child of music.

Beijing has birthed the band known as Tengger Cavalry, whose style of pagan Metal traces all the way to the Chinese Mongols. Female goth music trio Biuret is already being branded as the Evanescence of Asia, while Taiwan’s very own Chthonic is like the oriental Slipknot. Then there’s Bebop, whose image tilts dangerously toward K-Pop’s guilty sexiness, but their repertoire includes rock music. Speaking of which, don’t forget about Ace Of Angels and their secret “black” wing rock group too.

Even if Hip Hop is the new mainstream music toady because of all its clever and captivating rhymes, its charismatic tough guy or bad bitch appeal and “fuck bitches get money” attitude that all seem to be key to having a cool lifestyle in this era, we notice its music ever shifting louder and heavier sounds. I mean, metal music dabbled in Satanism/Illuminati before Pop made it cool. Just like how Beethoven used hashtags long before it was cool.

This is our old friend Metal’s demonic spirit peeking out into the world it once inhabited, secretly reinvigorating our lust for more powerful sounds and grandeur in the music that we consume.

Metal will never die.

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