Bluegrass Black Metal

What do Bill Monroe, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, and Slayer's Jeff Hanneman have in common?

What do Bill Monroe, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, and Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman have in common?

Deadheads, bluegrassers, and metalheads are all the same. We identify with a music and its surrounding culture much the same as the follower of a faith. Culturally, our fellow believers influence our appearance, leisure, preferences, and views of the world. Musically, each related style shares common themes, chief among them the importance of instrumental prowess and – in the case of bluegrass and metal – unique vocal styles. Like faith, exposing oneself to different musical styles and ideas can broaden one’s own development and growth. Be it Grateful Dead, Bill Monroe, or Slayer, investing oneself in music can drive musical appreciation. Certainly, each musical styling can require a certain effort to get “over the hump,” but each can provide a rich musical and cultural experience.

Deadheads have peace signs, tie-dyes, psychedelic drugs, and live music trading. Bluegrassers have pickin’ circles, fiddle tunes, moonshine, and Deliverance. Metalheads have the sign of the horns, head-to-toe black, mosh pits, and Jägermeister. In other words, each has easily identifiable social and cultural stereotypes, whether portrayed positively/negatively or accurate/inaccurate. There is a certain lingo and lifestyle that goes with each genre. Similarly, there are subgenres of each that cause consternation and disagreements among believers.

Musically, each genre maintains another set of presumptions. Jambands typically feature long songs and live improvisation. Bluegrass has typically well-defined song structure with kick-off, verse, chorus, break, and some number of repetitions. Bass and drums are critical to metal, as is guitar distortion. Bluegrass singing has that “high-lonesome sound,” while metal often features a vocal scream. Metal and jambands often emphasize a gradual musical climax, seeking to induce an emotional response. Consistent across each genre is a demand for extraordinary instrumental virtuosity. The heroes of each genre are the ones that can play it the fastest, cleanest, and with the most expression.

Followers of each styling have often invest a significant amount of effort to develop their appreciation. They often take a great deal of pride in knowing they “get it” while others don’t. Ironically, we’re often narrow minded in our appreciation of music. Who can forget Cartman playing Slayer’s Reign in Blood to break-up a “hippie jamband concert”? Our judgement of each others’ music, appearance, leisure, preferences, and views of the world are often critical. Challenging oneself with music outside of your comfort-level can lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the possibilities of music.

Personally, I can remember like it was yesterday when I first really appreciated PHISH. I was driving to work listening to a recording of 8/14/1993 that I’d heard dozens of times before. The melody of “Divided Sky” induced an emotional response I’d never had before. My appreciation for music has never been the same and I often find myself trying to recreate that emotional response. Do yourself a favor and invest yourself in something you’ve never listened to before. Invest might mean repeated listens and trying to find something you like in something that – at first listen – might not seem very appealing.

A dear friend is involved in a self-described “extreme music journal,” Worm Gear. Like this site, it seeks to introduce people to new music. They’ve been doing it a lot longer, do it much better, and are much more gifted with the written word. If you’re looking to really challenge yourself, take a look at this review of “bluegrass black metal” and Panopticon’s release, Kentucky. If you’re new to the genre there might be a significant hump. If you’ve ever invested yourself fully to develop musical appreciation, you’ll know it might just be worth it.

You can stream Kentucky for free and download it for just $3 at Band Camp!

4 thoughts on “Bluegrass Black Metal

  1. Heather

    You are spot on about how multiple exposures and a little effort can lead to personal (musical/nonmusical) growth. I’m finding I like both more bluegrass and more metal with repeated listenings, and albums like this one don’t hurt :)

  2. Jim

    “We identify with a music and its surrounding culture much the same as the follower of a faith / Certainly, each musical styling can require a certain effort to get “over the hump,” but each can provide a rich musical and cultural experience.”
    All true, and well said, my friend!


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