Discordant Systems: Uses and meanings of rhythmic difficulty in the music of Meshuggah and related extreme and progressive metal bands

Hannan, Calder, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Puri, Michael, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Maus, Fred, Department of Music, University of Virginia

In this thesis, I present a series of close readings of metal texts chosen for their rhythmic difficulty. In the first chapter, I address use of polymeter and hypermeter in the music of the metal bands Meshuggah and Intronaut. I draw conclusions about the many complicating factors involved in conceptualizing Meshuggah’s core rhythmic style, the importance of the consistent use of this style in determining meaning, and compare the meanings expressed in Meshuggah’s music to the very different ones expressed in Intronaut’s music.

In the second chapter, I address several instances of tempo ambiguity and tempo change taken from the music of the bands Gojira, Meshuggah, The Contortionist, Animals As Leaders, TesseracT, and Car Bomb. I explore different types of tempo ambiguity and change and their implications for perceptions and conceptions of tempo, pulse, and meter, as well as specific meanings tied more closely to the details of each song.

In the third chapter, I address two more songs in which rhythmic difficulty is created by a lack of pattern and/or pulse. I comment on the ways that rhythm can express randomness, its potential for expressing chaos, and the very different ways in which these techniques are central to the images of the bands Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

I conclude by drawing attention to a theorized link between heaviness (as in “heavy” metal) and disorientation caused by rhythmic complexity, as well as examining the implications of my analysis and synthesizing with the work of others to draw conclusions about the social place of the type of metal I discuss in the broader musical world.

BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Metal studies, rhythm, meter, tempo ambiguity, metric dissonance, hypermeter, Meshuggah
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