Structured Chaos: Techniques of Metric Instability and Transience in Metal

Dorian Stewart, University of North Texas

In the recently published Bloomsbury Book of Rock Music Research (2020), Nicole Biamonte notes that identifying idiomatic rhythmic and metric schemas in various rock sub genres remains an underexplored topic in the field of music theory. Several common rhythmic schemas pervade a wide subset of the metal genre, and sub genres employ more idiosyncratic treatments of rhythm, time-feel, and meter; creating metric instability through regular use of rhythmic techniques that subvert the predictability of rock music's basic 4/4 backbeat metric paradigm. Representative examples will be drawn from songs by progressive metal bands Dream Theater, Primus, and Between the Buried and Me, and alternative metal bands System of a Down and Slipknot. These musical examples serve as case studies of rhythmic and metric idioms in contemporary metal that can be more broadly applied to analyzing rhythmic, metric, and formal schemas across a wider subset of rock and metal genres.