There is a certain question that I am regularly asked by people whenever I recommend a certain band. It’s a question that aggravates me greatly, mainly because I know my answer will not necessarily match what they are expecting. The question is, “Is it heavy?”. I think the real question is, what do people consider to be heavy? Unfortunately in this day and age, if you were to ask someone what a heavy band sounds like, their answer would probably be something along the lines of “lots and lots of breakdowns”. I understand that breakdowns, being as popular as they are, are the gateway to what is any sort of heavy music, be it metalcore, post-hardcore, or any other form of hardcore, but there comes a point when a listener must expand their range and listen to other aspects of their respective genre. The truth is most people don’t realize that for a band to be heavy, they don’t necessarily need breakdowns. That’s like saying that for an electronica musician, dubstep is a must. It’s popular at the moment, but it isn’t the end all be all of the genre.
Even the idea of a breakdown is lost on the current fandom of music. Breakdowns are present in all sorts of music, whether it be jazz, R&B, or even gospel music, it all depends on the context in which it is used. Once again a question arises: what is the type of breakdown that kids like nowadays? If you have been paying attention to what has been going on in the scene then you probably know the answer to this question: any sort of chugging on a certain fret, while the drums repeatedly hit the cymbals. But is that really the only thing that makes an artist “heavy”?
Take for example the tremendously influential record The Shape of Punk to Come by Refused. It only takes one listen to realize two things: one, this record is extremely heavy and hard-hitting, and two, 99.9% of the “hardcore” bands out today are ripping that album off, some without even knowing it. There is no trace of what is today considered to be a breakdown, yet it is heavier than bands like Chelsea Grin, Attack Attack!, and whatever bands most independent labels have been signing as of late. Even Radiohead’s newest record The King of Limbs utilizes a tactic that makes the third track of that album darker and heavier-hitting. The chord progression in “Little By Little” gives a whole different layering to the song, and while I’m not saying Radiohead is by any means “heavy”, it shows that there is more than one way to make music “heavy” without the use of breakdowns.
So now that we have looked at the fact that breakdowns aren’t the only thing that makes a band heavier than the next, it’s time to ask ourselves: what is this fixation with the breakdown? Before I begin to try to answer this question, I would like to tell a story. Once upon a time I stumbled upon a video on YouTube which was titled something along the lines of “Breakdowns of 2010 Pt.1”. Closer inspection showed that the video was in fact a collection of pretty much every breakdown from every popular metalcore band that came out with an album in 2010. It was like watching an infomercial for a “Hits of the Metalcore Scene” which included every terribly generic song released in 2010 (this pit-worthy compilation includes “On Veiled Men” by Woe, Is Me and “Smokahontas” by Attack Attack!). I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the current fixation with breakdowns is one that has been taken to a whole different plane of obsession. But why?
I might be off but my answer would have to be that people seem to enjoy the simplicity of it, whether it’s a conscious thing or not. It’s the gateway towards a world of new music. The breakdown is easy to understand and easy to play, which is a big plus to anyone who would eventually want to create a band of their own. This is the reason why as of late, most people who get into the metalcore scene begin with bands like Attack Attack! and Asking Alexandria, who pack their music with breakdowns but do not display proficiency in any other area of the genre, unlike more technical bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, or bands who add their own personal twist to the genre, like La Dispute and Defeater.
Some people might argue that a breakdown is the funnest aspect of music, but can anything be fun when it is not taken in moderation? After a certain time, listening to the same musical arrangement has to get tiring; after all, one of the main beauties of music is that there is always so much to hear, and always a new kind of artist to discover.
So what have we learned today? We have learned that there are people whose idea of a good time is playing the intro to the Woe,Is Me album over and over again, but the most important thing I want to get across is that “heavy” is a relative term that should not be associated with just one form of music. A lot of this may be subjective, as most editorials and reviews will be, but one thing that should always be considered is: why stick to one certain aspect of music when there are hundreds of other bands, all who are doing something unique and original, and need your support more than the band who has gotten to the Main Stage at Warped Tour solely based on their looks and their ability to chug a chord?