Washington Think Tank: Point-Counterpoint

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It’s been a while, citizens, but the vox populi must not be silenced. It is time yet again to lend me your ears, hearts, and minds that we may together dig deep into the blackened soul of this genre we love to identify the best examples of an excellent musical technique. Let us work together that we may extol that which should be praised.

Today’s Question: What’s the best example of vocal counterpoint in metal?

Musical counterpoint is the use of two or more voices within a song that although working together to create a harmonious polyphony contrast each other in rhythm and pitch. The technique is often deployed in metal between two guitars (see Krallice’s “Over Spirit” and the arching duel between Marston and Barr’s theatrics) or between the guitars, bass, and keys (as evidenced in Randall’s beloved Windir and their excellent sognametal).

However, counterpoint can at times be found within the unlikely confines of extreme metal vocal performances. When done properly, the binary nature of two competing growls or alternating screams and melodic lines can be used to tremendous effect. Most bands seem reluctant to use the technique, though, perhaps fearing the outright cheesiness of symphonic metal bands with two vocalists. There are noteworthy examples to be seen, however, so let’s examine two excellent contenders:

__________

Exhibit A: Neurosis – “At the Well”

Although I’ve previously written about this song for the blog, it bears repeating due to the sheer mastery with which it was crafted. Of particular interest for this Think Tank though is the way that Kelley and von Till layer counterpoint vocals over top one another after repeated measures within the final minutes of the song. The final third or so of the track is dedicated to a cathartic refrain of “In a shadow world!” At around the 8:30 mark, though, a second refrain joins the song and adds “We hide in light” to form a hocket between the two voices. Both lines are mounted by a final lyric that closes the track in a truly beautiful and powerful climax.

The paths become clear, the road’s true
Oaths have been sworn.
The temporal spiral away,
Among the teeth of time.

__________

Exhibit B: Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – “Cygnus”

In this brand new example from the excellent new Mariner album by Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas, the band triumphantly concludes the ultimate track with a coiling, almost five-minute sequence wherein each repeated measure gains a new layer featuring a different piece, either instrumental or vocal. Skip ahead to the 10:00 mark to hear the beginning of this stunning closer. After Julie Christmas repeats the final refrain once, a second vocal track featuring her simply harmonizing joins the first track. After about two minutes, Christmas adds a third vocal melody line to the proceedings which ultimately gets accented by a fourth vocal track from Johannes Persson. Four vocal tracks, all singing at different rhythms to create a beautiful, overwhelming aural tapestry that acts as the defining point of the entire album. I’ll admit that I was initially reticent about this release, but this single track and its momentous final five minutes utterly enthralled me and won me over. Such is the power of the counterpoint.

You may have noticed that I provided two relatively recent albums. Perhaps there’s an example of vocal counterpoint in extreme metal that stands out to you as a shining achievement of artistry. Perhaps it pulls on your heartstrings in ways that few metal songs do. I want to hear it. Sound off in the comments below and let me know what voices I should be hearing.


Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a periodic column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Dubs, is it possible material from The Dillinger Escape Plan featuring simultaneous singing and growls could fit in here?

    • Dubs

      If it’s simultaneous. Would need to hear it.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    When it comes down to it I can’t think of any vocal counterpoints but dual guitar counterpoints are usually pretty good. The counterpoint between the flashy solos and the basic chords being played at the same time in the song Marquee Moon is amazing.

  • Dubs

    GL’s favorite track “Murmaider” counts.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3_MhrAVQTA

    • AGREEDMAIDER AGREEDMAIDER AGREEDMAIDER AGREEDMAIDER

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Not sure what happened to the official track uploads, so this fan-made version will have to do. The group clean choruses of the enormously epic buildup section (5:59) contrasted with the screaming throughout the rest of the verses (8:01) gives me chills every fucking time.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3NvLZSxL-4

    • tertius_decimus

      Awesome pick, Cybro!

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Always Be Moonsorrowing

    • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

      Moonsorrow >>>>>>>>>>>>

  • First thing that comes to mind for me is the both and forth nature of Batushka’s Litourgiya LP. Both the choir-esq vocals and harsh vocals trade off and on with the intense rhythms/leads. Intense! Epic!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUhBykAA0D8

  • Owlswald

    Pretty sure Sikth wrote the book on musical counterpoints: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dwvUjX_wNs&list=RD-dwvUjX_wNs#t=4

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    I really need to get into Cult of Luna…

    One of my favorite examples of this style is on Turbid North’s Eyes Alive. Throughout the album they use the dual vocal attack. With flawless results.

    Also:
    https://youtu.be/oZluUeRbZn8

    • Dubs

      Turgid North >>>

      • /stayTurgid

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        This makes me happy.

        I need to add that to my music listening list tonight. Damn.

      • I play their Eyes Alive album at least once a week while I get my daughter ready before the sitters. Excellent album.

        • Señor Jefe El Rosa

          GL!!!!!!!!!!
          Awesome.

    • My dad loves 3 Inches of Blood surprisingly.

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        Tyree’s Dad>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Dubs, your Cygnus example reminds me a lot of the end of Gojira’s The Art Of Dying.

    https://youtu.be/HTr7bqKHvgE?t=352

  • brokensnow
  • tertius_decimus

    Solefald are the champions of counterpoint. Whole Norrøn Livskunst consists 146% of counterpoints.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_0epWPa5io

  • Abradolf Lincler

    a lot of this point/counterpoint stuff gets way too deep into deathcore territory

    • tertius_decimus

      And… [drum roll] in baroque music territory.

      • Dubs

        It certainly isn’t a new musical technique.

      • Abradolf Lincler

        i posit you see quite a bit of it within the (ahem) symphonic metal category

        • Dubs

          Which, as I said in the article, is probably why a lot of bands avoid it.

          • Abradolf Lincler

            yis. also the point about the two vocalist thing

          • Dubs

            It’s definitely doable with one vocalist but would require a fair amount of dubbing.

          • Abradolf Lincler

            just seems . . . disingenuous

          • Dubs

            I think it sounds okay in Cygnus with Ms. Chrimbus doing three separate tracks.

          • Abradolf Lincler

            yeah, im not arguing it cant sound good on a recording. But, in a live setting, has to be handled by another (or multiple) vocalist, or by the dreaded backing track

          • Dubs

            Agreed

          • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf
        • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

          When it’s not completely Nightwishcore and one chick recycling the same 3 octaves over and over (thanks, Tarja, for the legions of that!).

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      I was thinking about the good cop / bad cop vocals when this went live.

  • Ayreonaut

    How you can you getcha pull when some other hoss is trying to counter your ass kicking, brother?

    • tertius_decimus

      Counter strike him.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Point/counterpoint = 1 pull apiece

      • i wanna make a joke about our motor scooter champion/pulling so. fucking. bad.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Local Scooter Champion Gets Pull, Herpes After Wild Weekend

          • tertius_decimus

            LOLZ! 😀

          • Ayreonaut

            Motor scooter racer achieves maximum pull, you won’t believe won’t happens next

          • Ex-Local Scooter Champions Son Sentenced to 6 month Probation After Shredding Local Track with Deceased Father Stolen “VIP. FUTURE CHAMPION” Scooter: Circumstantial Evidence Remains Unproven in Father’s Urination Case.

    • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf
  • Abradolf Lincler

    this is both the point and the counterpoint (rfi)
    #shitblackbeardsees

  • I remember this discussion we had with Guac, Lizard and Dagon!!!

    Another thing I remember besides the Neurosis song you shared is the Guacamole’s pick, a very good one indeed:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q0hQaoHStE

    • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

      Excellent band!

  • Hans Müller

    tha fuk man dont expcet us to listen 2 2 thnigs at 1s just cuz u got like 2 much brians man tha fuk

    • brokensnow

      wat

      • Abradolf Lincler

        I think he pulled that off of somebody’s Twitter account

        • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

          Nah, too eloquently stated and grammatically correct to be anything from Twitter.

  • JWEG

    A: Anything and everything done by Borknagar with multiple vocalists. Especially when it’s three voices doing point-counterpoint.

    And not just because other choices I thought of have been covered already. Or because Winter Thrice is almost all I’ve been listening to lately.

    • Abradolf Lincler

      Now that records the jam

    • tertius_decimus

      Borknagar>>>>>>>>>>

    • Dubs

      Ah, great example.

  • Hans Müller

    The ending of In The Rainy Season. I love it. Starts at 3:25. Can be heard better in the acapella version that they opened the live album with, but that doesn’t seem to be on youtube.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8WCwLPllPY

    And there’s another part on my mind that I actually thought of first, but I’m not even sure if it’s something I own, much less what song by what band it might be. That sort of crap is likely to bother me for days.

    • SYL ROCKS!!! that’s one of the first actual metal bands i got into

      • Hans Müller

        I remember hearing S.Y.L. on some comp that my older brother had. I was floored; it was mind-bogglingly heavy. Had a good laugh when I read the album title years later.

        • more metal bands need their sense of humor for sure
          Alien or City is in my top metal albums of all. which one, depends on my mood.

          • Hans Müller

            By the way, do you think Zimmers Hole will ever make another album? This thing mostly ripped despite being almost too silly.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HclX3-nc5ak

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Alien is the tits

  • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

    First example that came to mind:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOszcttG9BE

    Gotcha opera vocals and gotcha dem growlie wowlies going on virtually back to back in unison.

    • EsusMoose

      So they have 3 singers and the women’s vocals seem mixed weirdly, goes between nearly nonexistent and being fairly upfront but it could also be the male clean singer. Also a break down at 3:00 or so?

      • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

        Not quite seeing where the woman’s vocals are nearly non-existent, except where she does stop singing and lets the other 2 do their thing. *scratching my head*

        • EsusMoose

          First section of the clean duet part, it just seemed like one of their vocals were thrown into the back (on a second listen it was the dudes, probably)

  • Waynecro

    Thanks for another thought-provoking Washington Think Tank!

  • tigeraid

    Hmm… Vocals are my game but I struggle to think of anything that isn’t cheesy Pop-Metal.

    And while I love Iced Earth’s Phantom Opera Ghost, it’s really more of a traditional duet between Barlowe and Yunhui Percifield than a simultaneous “harmony.”

    • tigeraid

      I’ll know doubt think of something in 24 hours, when everyone else has moved onto the next post. 😛

      • we’ll all make it a special point to come back here to see what you came up with :/

        • tigeraid

          It’s really all I ask.

          • Dubs

            I certainly will return.

  • Max

    No, I’m really struggling to come up with an example of vocal melody counterpoint in extreme metal. There’s plenty of examples of timbral variation between two atonal vocalists (or performances by one vocalist), but none of the former I can invoke off the top of my head…

    • Dubs

      I scratched my head for a good while trying to think of more. One Facebook user suggested Enslaved.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        My thought as well

  • Crab Nicholson

    The bit between the masked man and Magnus in Doomstar Requiem

  • Elizabeth Short

    Naar henmeren heves by einherjer. Fuck, that was difficult to get right from memory. Good trade-off vocals and beer sloshing music at the same time.