Monday, May 9, 2016

10 Great Melodic Metal Songwriter/Guitarists

I'm a huge fan of catchy guitar leads in metal, whether they are placed as riffs, solos or ambiance. Here, I'll list ten of my favorite melody-writers, all of whom are among my biggest influences as a listener and guitarist.

Anders Nystrom - Katatonia, Bloodbath, Diabolical Masquerade
Songs: Rainroom, Leaders, July, Without God, Dispossession, Brave

My favorite guitarist, Nystrom's melodies are usually minimalist, yet uncompromising in catchiness. With Brave Murder Day in particular, Nystrom's playing taught me less can be more as a metal guitarist. He would repeat hypnotic, emotive leads over a droning wall of sound; coupled with Mikael Akerfeldt's screaming on that album, it made for a dramatic call-and response between where your focus would go. Besides his atmospheric lead style, Nystrom is a creative riff maker. The Great Cold Distance is full of badass riffs, and the melodies on Last Fair Deal Gone Down are heartbreaking.

Neige - Alcest, Amesoeurs
Songs: Percees de Lumiere, Sur l'ccean couler de fer, Souvernirs d'un autre monde, Faiblesse des Sens

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Alcest is "touching." There's a heartfelt quality to Neige's music, both in Alcest and the short-lived supergroup Amesoeurs. Neige's melodicism shines through his feelsy guitar playing, whether he's playing chords, arpeggios, or blackgaze leads. Also notably, Neige's vocals act as an additional melodic layer in Alcest's music, whether he's singing hypnotic melodies or shrieking like a drowning wraith.

John Haughm and Don Anderson - Agalloch
Songs: In The Shadow of Our Pale Companion, You Were But A Ghost In My Arms, Fire Above Ice Below, Limbs, Faustian Echoes, The Melancholy Spirit

It's hard to do justice to the quality of Agalloch's work in a paragraph. Their first three albums, especially, are full of memorable songs, and all of their work features remarkable attention to detail. Like Alcest, there is a touching quality of their sound, especially on The Mantle. Agalloch present this feeling, this sincerity, in a grandiose manner. Their music evokes images of contemplative solitude and nature.

Tamas Katai and Juhasz Janos - Thy Cataflque
Songs: Oldodo Formak a Halal Titokzatos Birodalmab, Szervelten, Feher Berek, Csillagkoho, Elo Leny, Minden Test Fu

While Katai was not originally the guitarist in Thy Catafalque, he's picked up where former axeman Juhasz Janos left off after the superb Roka Hasa Radio. While there are many aspects to Thy Catafalque's unique sound, one of the first traits I picked up on was how heavy their riffing is compared to any other black metal-influenced artist I've heard. Songs like "Szervelten" and "Fekete Mekzok" feature pummeling industrial and doom metal riffs. Another fascinating part of Thy Catafalque's music is Katai's heavy use of what I've read to be traditional Hungarian melodies. These aspects are just small parts of the huge product that Thy Catafalque is. Like Agalloch and many other great post metal bands, Thy Catafalque features great layering.

A - Ash Borer
Songs: Untitled (from Fell Voices split), In The Midst of Life We Are In Death, Removed Forms, My Curse Was Raised In The Darkness Against A Doomsday Silence

Here we have an anonymous artist, straight from his post-black metal band with vocals and no lyrics - how kvlt! Besides this tropeyness - at this point, a shameless aspect of black metal anyway - Ash Borer are a powerful sonic force. As with many post metal bands, this is largely due to the band's tightness, how they together produce a wall of sound. Despite how talented their drummer is, you can't help noticing the guitars listening to Ash Borer. Especially on their self-titled LP, the lead guitars are often playing a tense counterpoint lead. You can hear this from the beginning of "Rest, You Are The Lightning," but A's sense of melody and direction in his guitar playing shines on the other tracks as well. "In The Midst of Life, We Are In Death" features riff after riff, cumilating in a furious, Norway-esque climax until dissolving into silence.

Aaron Weaver and Nathan Weaver - Wolves in the Throne Room
Songs: A Shimmering Radiance (Diadem of 12 Stars), Subterranean Initiation, Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog

A well-known Cascadian black metal band, WitTR have a gift for affective nuances in their songwriting. From their majestic debut LP, Diadem of 12 Stars, to the darker Black Cascade, these guys have consistently proven to be masters of "crescendocore." You can hear influence from their creative use of dynamics in great post black metal bands like Altar of Plagues. Check the climax of "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog."

Dan Swano - Edge of Sanity, Witherscape, Nightingale, Pan.Thy.monium
Songs: The entire Crimson and Purgatory Afterglow albums

Swano has done so much for progressive music. Besides his impressive work as a producer, Dan Swano left an impression on progressive extreme metal with Edge of Sanity. In their mid-era, almost every song was full of memorable leads and riffs. Just listen to Crimson. Does a 40-minute epic of top-notch progressive/melodic death metal, centered around a bleak dystopian sci-fi story, not sound fascinating?

Jason Mendonca - Akercocke
Songs: Verdelet, Words That Go Unspoken, Leviathan, Axiom, Inner Sanctum

Mendonca has never been without a talented co-axeman, but Akercocke's constantly-evolving songwriting can be solidly pinpointed on Jason and phenomenal drummer David Gray. From Choronzon on, Akercocke deliver a bombardment of sinister riffs, and delve deeper into progressive and experimental aspects of extreme music. By Antichrist, no one sounds solidly like Akercocke, despite their take on brutal death metal being a clear Suffocation nod. Their works drown a listener in an unmatched, sinister atmosphere. I am personally hyped for their recently-announced reunion.

Mikael Akerfeldt - Opeth
Songs: Black Rose Immortal, Advent, Karma, Blackwater Park, The Moor

What would a list of dark progressive metal artists be without this guy? The quality of Opeth's entire catalog is almost unmatched in metal. Opeth are also a constantly-evolving band, and the majestic-yet-freezing, harmony-driven music on Morningrise sounds little like the brutal onslaught of Deliverance or the tight and polished prog metal found on Watershed, save for somehow sounding like the same band. Look to a number of interviews with Akerfeldt; it's no secret his strength is songwriting. There is no right album to start listening to Opeth with.

Mikolaj "M" Zentara - Mgla
Songs: Exercises in Futility V, Exercises in Futility VI, With Hearts to None I, With Hearts to None VII

Mgla have recently been noticed for their Exercises in Futility album, delivering a powerful, nihilistic statement of droney black metal. Mgla are not really breaking ground in their Burzum-school style, but they just pull off this style very well. Listening to With Hearts to None, a listener is drawn to Mgla's odd melodicism, and how their subtle changes in drumming or layering drive most of their songs. Exercises focuses more on building up each song, and more often breaks to evil grooves as on "Exercises III" and V.

In the future I hope to devote more time to each individual artist. I hope this gave you a decent impression of my taste, and gave you a few metal artists to check out. Thanks for reading!

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