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The unacknowledged significance of lyrics in the downloading era

Discussion in 'General Metal Discussion' started by requiem, Jan 30, 2016.

  1. requiem

    requiem I bleed sir, but not killed

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    I've wanted to say something about this for a while now, and I'm interested in hearing what people think. This isn't, hopefully, just another 'favourite lyrics' type thread - instead I wanted to talk about the importance of great lyrics to music; principally, how the lyrics can elevate the song and give it a whole new meaning.

    The reason I think this is worth a thread is because a lot of my cursory listening happens on youtube, and many of my c.ds tend to get a significant spin in my car stereo - both environments where I'm not really engaging with the lyrics to any great extent. In other places on this forum, people sometimes say that the lyrics aren't that important to them. For me, I often fall into the trap of ignoring the lyrics altogether, even though they are very important to me. Especially with extreme vocals; unless I pick up the booklet I often have no sense of the song's theme, only its generalised musical feel, and this is often the only evidence I have when evaluating new music. With people consuming music in unprecedented amounts, usually without booklets due to downloading, I think there is a deficit here between sound and meaning.

    Of course I'm speaking only for my personal taste, but I want to nominate the new Swallow the Sun album 'Songs from the North' as having incredible lyrics that need to be read carefully in order to enhance the already amazing music.

    Here's an example of what I mean. I first listened to Fleshgod Apocalypse's new track 'Gravity' a couple of times and thought, yeah pretty good I guess but not a classic by any measure like 'Labyrinth' was for me, with its ancient Greek theme matching perfectly the style of epic orchestral music. I was a bit worried about how they might translate their extreme orchestral grandeur into the new theme of monarchy in the 19th century, which I think is what 'King' will be about. Then I finally read the lyrics in the video for 'Gravity' as the song was playing and boom - the song just opened up, it all made sense and I got it.



    This is an instance where it really does pay off to spend time with the lyrics to get the full scope of what's going on in a song, and I nearly missed it. In the era of downloading I think this phenomenon is something to be regretted.
     
    #1 requiem, Jan 30, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2016
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  2. EspaDa

    EspaDa World Kekxtermination

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    The lyrics for dISEMBOWELMENT's Cerulean Transience of All My Imagined Shores always elevate the song to another level. Some bands are really created for writing lyrics. The only genre which lyrics I ignore is brutal death metal. On the other hand I'm fond of lyrics by bands like Spawn of Possession, Morbid Angel or Dead Congregation as they're simpy interesting. Metal devoid of lyrics wouldn't be the same
     
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  3. Baroque

    Baroque Active Member

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    Lyrics are important to me, and I know there's a very vocal few around here saying that lyrics/vocals don't matter. But they do, it's a huge part of a Song, it's tied for most prominent instrument in the mix with guitar most times.

    I can deal with good music that has either shitty lyrics or shitty vocals Sometimes, but if both are bad then I'm just listening to something else.

    Hexen - Being and Nothingness has perhaps my favorite lyrics of a thrash album.
     
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  4. Draehl

    Draehl Lurker

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    I guess I'm somewhat vocal about it. Vocals are just another instrument like guitar or drums. The song titles and album art definitely set the stage for the overall feeling, but once the listening begins I generally don't care to be bothered by story, meaning, or significance of any kind. But then again, I prefer the more repetitive and hypnotic genres for more of a pseudo-spiritual experience. Atmoblack, downbeat electronic, ritual ambient, the more psychedelic stoner/doom, etc. I suppose when listening to Trad metal, Prog or Power a certain level of meaning seeps through. But even then it's in passing. For example "Sons of Winter and Stars" I just assume is about some mystical time/space traveling beings who can sing pretty awesome. Could it be more than that or something completely different? It likely is, but it doesn't matter enough to even bother interpreting any further.
     
  5. TechnicalBarbarity

    TechnicalBarbarity -TheNightsBane-

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    Lyrics and vocals arent the same thing.

    Lyrics are almost never enough to make or break a track. And i think most people here would agree, not just a "vocal" few. Vocals on the other hand, are a pretty big part of the music ... not as big as the rest of the instruments, but still important.
     
  6. Omni

    Omni User

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    Lyrics only hamper my enjoyment of music when the music in question is designed around easily understood vocal melodies. A lot of music, including some metal, falls into that category. In general, I don't worry about them being bad too much unless the music is designed around delivering them to you in a singalong fashion.

    I should note that I do enjoy good lyrics and they can elevate my appreciation of albums from an artistic perspective when they're very good.
     
  7. 0Marty

    0Marty Member

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    I care about lyrics when it comes to some non-metal genres, mostly because lyrics are a big part of what they have to offer. But when it comes to metal... nah. If the song is good, music itself is enough to have my full attention and I don't think about lyrics. If it doesn't have my full attention, it's either background music or it's bad so I don't bother with it.

    But I have to say I don't read any books or poetry anyway.
     
  8. TechnicalBarbarity

    TechnicalBarbarity -TheNightsBane-

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    I also agree with @EspaDa. It can definitely enhance the music at times.

    eg, Spawn of Possession and Psycroptic have some bad ass lyrics ... but even if they didn't, their albums would still be just as good imo.
     
  9. HamburgerBoy

    HamburgerBoy Active Member

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    There are definitely a handful of bands (Slough Feg, Holy Terror, USPM in general tbh) where the lyrics enhance the overall experience, but only a couple where I'd say they're integral to it. Bad lyrics have to be really fucking bad for me to care, and even then vocal delivery usually has to be poor too; Anthrax's political lyrics are whiny enough, but Belladonna's voice especially helps to put the final nail in an album like Among the Living.
     
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  10. requiem

    requiem I bleed sir, but not killed

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    Like all things in 'metal', there are obviously more average to poor lyrics than good to great, but the point is that some music is a package of the two that really only makes sense when both lyrics and music go together. I definitely like a lot of stupidly written songs, or songs where the lyrics are basically there to drive the vocal melody or complement the riffs, and I would never argue that the lyrics were the primary source of enjoyment I get from music. But I have too often had those epiphanies where I finally get around to reading the lyrics and go, "Woah... ok now I see".

    But unlike our friend 0Marty, books and poetry are a big part of my life, so perhaps I'm bringing a lot of that to the table. For me, a single great line from Shakespeare, for instance, gives me that same chilling effect that I get from a great riff: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep".

    So when I get instances of both of these elements - inspiring sound and poetic lyrics, like in the Fleshgod song 'Gravity' with the lines of the chorus: "I alone, on the sly with my drug / Fill my veins with this gold dust" (to take a small part out of context) to analogise unrelenting greed, when married with the epic scale of the music just blows me away.
     
  11. alex76

    alex76 Please enter a value using 50 characters or fewer.

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    Well, I am of the opinion that the lyrics are, if not critically, and least very important to a song. I don't think it goes as far as making/breaking a song, but good lyrics can certainly elevate a song significantly, while bad ones can drag it down by the same amount. Depth in music comes in many forms, not just in the intricacies of the musical instruments. A beat is a beat, but a good beat gets stuck in your head. A solo can be poignant and anticipatory, or it can be masturbatory noodling. The same is true with lyrics. Good lyrics are like poetry, and can, in and of themselves, be worth the repeat of hearing them. Bad lyrics can make shit sound dopey, sloppy, and lazy. If it is set to good music, it makes the song, in a way, an unfinished product. If I find a song I really like, I will check out the lyrics. Following a song in my head, while mumbling nonsensical words because I failed to learn them is fucking annoying. Lyrics are especially important in progressive/epic pieces, and in concept albums where a story is being told. It should be noted that if the band is putting out a political or social message that you don't agree with, that does not constitute bad lyrics, much in the same way there have been great writers who have put forth great works and philosophers that have mulled some interesting concepts that one does not necessarily agree with. I am not a big fan of Ayn Rand's ethics, for example, but The Fountainhead was a pretty decent book.
     
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  12. Master_Yoda77

    Master_Yoda77 True Doom

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    Yeah, I love lyrics. Turbo Lover is amazing.
     
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  13. no country for old wainds

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    there are few things more awesome in metal than a great lyric timed and delivered properly. it doesn't happen all that often, though. early at the gates would be an example of lyrics enhancing the experience for me, vivid and hallucinatory one moment, tragic the next, then unbelievably authoritative and threatening the next.
     
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  14. Black Orifice

    Black Orifice Vein-Marbled Tower

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    I rarely listen to lyrics. I've always focused on melody and harmony, and find my appreciation of music derived in that. Occasionally, I'll try to focus in on them (mostly with somebody like Elliott Smith), but it takes my focus away from the music itself and, unless the lyrics are phenomenal (which they normally aren't), doing so makes me feel both bored and as if I am doing a disservice to the music. This has worked out well for me listening to classical because I usually don't care what the vocalist is saying, just how their singing sounds.
     
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  15. requiem

    requiem I bleed sir, but not killed

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    Before the internet my friends and I had to buy everything we heard, except for what was played on a metal radio show once a week when we would try to record on cassette the songs we liked. So sitting at home listening to c.ds and cassettes was also 100% about looking through the artwork and reading the lyrics, good and bad.

    Unless I flicked through a magazine or something there was rarely even any distracting side activities (like reading and typing on forums/driving/walking with headphones unless you had a Sony Walkman), so the artwork and lyrics were an entrenched part of the musical experience. I knew pretty much all the lyrics by heart from all my tapes and c.ds from back in the day.

    Obviously for a lot of people these days, many of whom would never purchase hard copies of the bands' materials, the artwork and lyrics part of the experience is entirely missing. Even from this thread there are people who simply don't connect with lyrics in any way.

    I'm not saying it was better in the old days or that people are missing out. There's no right and wrong in this, but it certainly struck me as a different experience in 2016 to what it was in 1996 for instance.
     
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  16. CiG

    CiG The Grand Calculation

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    Great thread, as someone who writes a lot I naturally appreciate lyrics. I spend a lot of time reading the booklets, often as I listen to the CD.

    I think Doom Metal is a great genre for lyrics, especially since you can very easily understand what they're saying yet the genre isn't always cheesy and so the lyrics are also worth paying attention to.

    As to albums or songs where the lyrics actually elevate the music, I'd nominate Atlantean Kodex, Slough Feg and While Heaven Wept as just some of the bands that I feel really know how to create music that demands a lyrical appreciation in order to truly unlock their greatness.
     
  17. End of Glory

    End of Glory Crucify Your Faith

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    For me it depends on the genre but I'll take great vocals over great lyrics anyday.
     
  18. CiG

    CiG The Grand Calculation

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    Well of course.
     
  19. RedStorm

    RedStorm Death has come

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    Lyrics are very important to metal. They mean something different to every person. For me they challenged my blind faith in christianity and also heightened the importance of intelligence in my life. They also get me to think of the abstract things in life, i read many books by scholars and philosophers now. Metal broadened my interests and was pivotal in my evolution to more important things in life. But i still like to listen to old school death metal for the musician ship, the lyrics to most of it is just a filler for the amazing skill of the band.
     
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  20. Funerary_Doom

    Funerary_Doom My head is bloody, but unbowed.

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    It just depends on the way the band uses them. Some bands make great use of them and it really enhances their sound and feel. While others don't, it doesn't necessarily always take away from their sound. I think vocals are important, it's harder for me to get over vocals and vocal melodies that really doesnt complement the instruments than bad lyrics.
     
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