Washington Think Tank with W.: Meaning Through Repetition

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My thanks to Lacertilian for tackling the last edition of Think Tank. I’ve been on a bit of a Sabbatical from this column, focusing my efforts instead on other site features, but I can only allow this field to go fallow for so long. The harvester has returned, ripe with another question for your mental gourds.

“This is boring and repetitive!” It’s a common complaint many of us, myself included, have lobbed at albums we dislike. When albums feature very repetitive or similar songs, we often label the artists with a veritable Scarlet Letter in the music industry: lack of creativity. Some bands have built careers on songs that all sound very similar Just pick up any given Amon Amarth or Bolt Thrower (both of whom are bands I like, by the way) album to see what I mean. If that formula is followed too closely, though, it can seem as though the artists are completely devoid of ideas. However, I recently chanced upon some reading material and a particular album that have left me reconsidering the merit behind monotony.

Today’s Question: Is repetition in music okay?

Before we reach today’s exhibit, a calibration of our terminology is in order. When I say repetition, I’m not referring to a sometimes repeated section of music in a song or album. Riffs themselves may be considered repetitious, but these notes are used to drive a song, and the cyclical nature is necessary to support the structure. Nor am I referring to bands who repeat certain musical motifs. Dream Theater have made good use of chiasmus in their music, beginning and ending their albums on similar notes in order to tie the concept together in a ring. Last, repetitive choruses are excluded from this discussion due to the intent behind having a repeated vocal segment to hook listeners.

No, the sort of repetition I have in sight is one in which an album rarely, if ever, deviates from a prescribed formula. When artists take repetition to the extreme so that every single track follows the exact same pattern, the results are significantly different than if even a little variation was employed. Iron Scorn,  the latest album from Legion of Andromeda, is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Nearly every single track follows the exact same rhythmic pattern: a few double bass strokes followed by an anvil-esque strike on the cymbal. Only a couple songs differ, and those merely feature the same rhythm played at half speed. This drum line acts as the backbone for the entire record, one from which the blood-encrusted drop-tuned riffs and cancerous vocals extend like char-black ribs. It’s a strange experience, hearing multiple permutations of one idea.

However, after talking with multiple readers, including Matt Pike’s Sweaty Left Nipple, Stockhausen, Tyree, and Roshin (who originally brought the album to my attention before Crucial Blast re-released it), I’ve found myself entranced by the record. The drum pattern acts as a sort of mantra or chant, and therein lies its potency; the repetition draws you into a sort of trance where you perceive each song as a single potentiality deriving from the source, like Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths, so to speak. Each track then becomes a separate timeline, anchored to the central spoke but unique in its own slight derivation.

I thought of a maze of mazes, of a sinuous, ever growing maze which would take in both past and future and would somehow involve the stars. – Jorge Luis Borges

Then again, it’s entirely possible that this album is dull and that I’m finding artistic merit where there is none. But that’s for you to discuss! So what do you think? Is this type of repetition interesting, or is this band as bereft of ideas as those I would likely criticize? Is there power in strict repetition? Sound off in the comments below.

P.S. Do you have an idea for Think Tank? Send it to toiletovhell@gmail.com! I’d love to collaborate.

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.

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
    • Zeke

      burzum was the first thing that popped into my mind too

  • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

    I’m fine with it. A good riff and some layering can do wonders. Mgla does it very well.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHfUsIm0z28

    • Vote for Jeb

      I actually had them in mind too.

      • Stanley

        Yeah, but they only repeat riffs/motifs within a song, not an entire album. And when they do, there are always subtle evolutions. All the songs on each record are very different from one another.

        • Vote for Jeb

          Yes, I meant to link them in the part about riffs! I guess I had a brain fart.

          • Stanley

            Excused!

    • Malted Hate

      Have you heard the new one yet?

      • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

        No. We were discussing this on the last post.

        • Malted Hate

          ah yes, just saw it now.

    • Hubert

      I’ve been jamming With Hearts Toward None since it came on Bandcamp. It’s good to be on the Mgla hype train.

  • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

    Ever listen to Von? That’s all they do. Repeat repeat repeat.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyJBH_W7CC4

    • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

      And they’re all the worse for it.

      • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

        Listened to this album again this weekend actually. They suck, but I’m a sucker for shittiness.

        • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

          Is this the new Von?

        • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

          Von is the exception for me, I like repetition, I generally like shit if by shit you mean something like Von in any way imaginable. But Von just pure fucking suck. Before the reunion they were alright enough, never good but not as bad as now (not even going to mention Von Blood or Von Goat).

          Easily the worst gig I’ve seen too.

          • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

            Completely understandable.

    • Honkey McWienerPudding

      I actually thought you were talking about Vond, Mortiis’ neoclassical project. That’s probably right up Tapir’s alley.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96hYQIuIzqg&list=PL7WIbm601dy17ld9W27cETA_vbsp3I0_8&index=13

  • Mother Shabubu 8
    • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

      “Pull Me Under” the hedges.

  • J. L. Borges writing is better than repetitive music and everything else.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEAOCTAu9c

    • Honkey McWienerPudding

      Good writer, but nothing compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

    So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, So take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember, Take, take me home, Cos I don’t remember,

    • KJM

      Stupid hoe
      Stupid hoe
      U a stupid hoe
      Stupid hoe
      Stupid hoe
      U a stupid hoe

      • The Haunting Presence of Tyree
        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          Of course I like Phil Collins!

          • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

            You would.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            His only bad album is No Jacket Required. I love his era of Genesis as well.

          • KJM

            (facepalm)

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I don’t know why his era of Genesis is so hated. It may be mainstream but it exposed them to a bigger audience.

          • KJM

            I’d sooner listen to Big Generator or 90125, and that’s saying a lot.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I own both those albums on vinyl as well as all the Yes albums before it. I prefer to listen to Tormato over Big Generator. That’s still better than the one from last year though.

          • KJM

            Collins-era Genesis is hot stinky poop, is what I’m saying.

          • Honkey McWienerPudding

            I’m alone in the fact that I thought ‘Calling All Stations’ was their best one.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I refuse to believe anyone likes that abomination of an album.

          • Honkey McWienerPudding

            Oh, it’s true!

          • The Haunting Presence of Tyree

            When that song comes on I want to murder everything.

          • Of course you would.

          • The Haunting Presence of Tyree
          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I hate that album and that song. I like the rest of his solo work though.

        • Honkey McWienerPudding
      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Is this a no Nicki Minaj zone? I’m unsure if it us or not

        • Honkey McWienerPudding

          Hey now! As long as you have the mute button on, the ‘Anaconda’ video is a modern masterpiece. It is the magnum opus of righteous gluts.

      • Honkey McWienerPudding

        N-gga + bitch + ho + ass = instant Niki Minaj song.

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      Who thought this was a good song. The same lyric over and over again is annoying and too overblown in my opinion.

    • Honkey McWienerPudding
  • I’m not a drummer but I think I could play for Legion of Andromeda.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    In my opinion repetition works best on a rock opera or a concept album.

  • Hubert

    I hate repetition. Hate it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlONStHIBUA

    • Vote for Jeb

      It’s been a while since I heard this (I think I only jammed this album once), but this is a pretty good example. They lock you into a certain headspace with that riff.

      • Dagon

        Swans is a guaranteed way to end a party. Its very effective.

        I was going to drop them in the discussion myself. Legion of Andromeda sounds like Gira’s son started playing around with corpse paint.

        • Honkey McWienerPudding

          Especially some of their mid period stuff, which gets depressing and dark as all hell, with plenty of droning tracks in between. ‘World Of Skin’ will definitely make people want to strangle you at a party.

          • Dagon

            You try with Black Flag’s Scream, if they don’t leave you throw the coup de grace with Swans.

          • Honkey McWienerPudding

            Or some Stalaggh/Gulaggh. The screams of real asylum patients should get them packing quick!

  • KJM

    Being a Stoner/Doom/Sludge kinda dood, I’m not put off at all by repetition.

    • Vote for Jeb

      I would assume anyone who likes Dopesmoker wouldn’t be.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Dopesmoker is a good album.

      • KJM

        I prefer Holy Mountain.

      • Dagon

        I love Dopesmoker and Om, but some of Sunn O))) material becomes a little bit boring to me. I think the line is subjective.

  • Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabadoo

    I’m a sucker for repetition – the same idea over and over again gives me the time and freedom to fully understand what’s going on and hear it in a different way.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydJ_xPH5s_w

    • Vote for Jeb

      This is not what I expected, but I dig it!

  • Have a good lunch, everyone!

    Repetition is good if the artistic direction needs it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIR1KfKXH6s

  • Leif Bearikson

    I think repetition works better in certain styles than others. Black metal and stoner doom are obviously perfect as they can use those repetitions to entrance and they always seem to put me in a sort of meditative state. The repeated use of certain motifs can also lead to an album that feels grand in scale, though that obviously varies.

    The new Rivers of Nihil is a good example of repetition that irks me. Every song seemingly has a open 7th string stop/start chug section. While I enjoy that album, it sticks out to me every time.

    • Vote for Jeb

      While listening to the album in the OP, I started wondering if there’s a fine line between absolute repetition and only slight variation. A lot of bands lose me when every song sounds the same if that clearly wasn’t the intent. With Iron Scorn and the genres you posted, it does seem to the intent of the creator to provide continuity.

    • Scrimm

      This is true.

    • Honkey McWienerPudding

      Quite true. I don’t picture it working quite so well with something like power metal, and especially not tech death.

  • 365chaosriddendays

    Sometimes you search and you find buried treasures on bandcamp. DØDSFALL are a norwegian Black Metal force in the vein of the most grim and merciless desire to lash you with a plethora of high speed riffage and blast beats with short moments for the melody. I encourage you to listen, the music is filled with high intensity, dark, wicked and played with passion, try it: http://dodsfall.bandcamp.com/album/kaosmakt

  • This Legion of Andromeda sounds interesting on 1st listen but I think after a few more spins it would become incredibly boring. The same exact drum beat going through almost an entire album is ill advised.

  • KJM

    After 18 glorious years, Time Cube has finally gone offline.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Cube

    • Vote for Jeb

      Oh no way! Time Cube was one of those things I liked to send people to mess with them.

    • WHAT? That should be preserved in perpetuity. Like an Internet Heritage site.

      • Vote for Jeb

        Like the Space Jam site.

        • Honkey McWienerPudding

          They might update that, since there’s talk about a sequel.

  • JamesGrimm

    Alot of Jesu’s stuff is like this.

  • Scrimm

    Amon Amarth sucks.

  • Repetition can definitely be used to great effect. Obviously some shitlord band playing a shitlord riff and just repeating it blows. I particularly enjoy bands that can weave a riff that reverberates the theme and interlace that throughout the album. There aren’t very many bands that do this. Amon Amarth did it on their last album and Ghost Bath had a couple riffs that appeared over multiple songs.

  • Honkey McWienerPudding

    Depends. Sometimes a super simple, repetitious song can be quite the earworm. Prime example:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfpgpf6QVnI

    PS, in other news, I got hired on the spot today! 😀

    • more beer

      That`s always nice. Doing what?

      • Honkey McWienerPudding

        Cooking and prep, as to be expected. Got a little bump in my pay for that reason as well.

        • more beer

          Congrats. More money is always good.

          • Honkey McWienerPudding

            Yep yep! And doing something I’m good at and have had years of experience in. Plus it’s short order stuff, so not nearly as complicated as what I was doing before.

          • more beer

            Fuck yea more money and easier is always the best path.

    • KJM

      Fucking awesome! Congrats!

      • Honkey McWienerPudding

        Tak! 🙂

  • Stockhausen
    • Guacamole Jim

      Steve Reich might be an interesting fellow to analyze for this particular think tank as well.

      • Sir Tapir The Based :]

        Steve Reich is love, Steve Reich is life.

  • A bit of drone-style repetition in black metal can work nicely, but then there are bands that overdo it, like Ash Borer with everything they’ve ever done or Altar of Plagues on Mammal. There are some cool sounds on Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, but the repetition can also be kind of a bummer.

    Sometimes repetition seems to build to something greater than the sum of its repetitions. Sometimes it just sounds like a sterile cut and paste job. I suppose the difference is subjective.

  • Waynecro

    I guess intent is important. If a band is using such repetition for a reason, it can work and be OK. If the guys in the band just don’t know how to deviate from a specific template (or don’t realize all their shit is the same shit), it can be hard to overlook. And, as other people have pointed out, this sort of repetition works better in some genres than in others.

  • Count_Breznak

    Celeste comes to mind.

  • Guacamole Jim

    Those DT albums don’t just end similarly, they end and begin
    identically (at least a good run of them do). Say what you want about DT (I
    do); they’re great musicians who were trying to do things that were new and
    unique. The idea of writing four (or five; can’t remember) albums that all tie
    into each other and then circle around to the beginning is really fucking cool.
    You don’t have to like the music to appreciate the concept.

    In regards to the repetition, I
    can’t say I know too many albums that use it to such an extent as you’re
    discussing. Some Meshuggah albums, I would say, do it (Catch 33, Nothing), and
    in their same-ness they become more complete. I don’t always want it to happen,
    because diversity in albums makes the overall experience more rewarding over
    time, but sometimes I really am drawn to the overarching same-ness that you’re
    describing, and it’s powerful when used effectively. [I suppose I should note
    that I’ve never heard it used ineffectively, since only advanced musicians (it
    would seem, or at least to my knowledge) are utilizing the concept.]

    I think that most albums, by merit
    of being written by a particular group of people at a particular period of
    time, tend to have an overarching theme or same-ness to them. It may be more
    subtle or obvious from album to album. Compare Catch 33 to Koloss. Catch 33
    feels like it’s the exploration of (basically) one motif, one idea, and the
    variations thereof. Whereas Koloss is written in a song-to-song format, where
    each song sounds unique; and yet there’s a clear sound stretching across
    Koloss, distinct from every other Meshuggah album, and very uniquely Koloss.

    It may not be deliberate, but I
    think it does exist. It’s certainly more obvious, and will have a stronger
    effect on the listener when it’s deliberate, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a
    very rare thing to come across a musical chameleon, devoid of individual voice.
    I think in the very fact that a particular album has to be written by a
    particular group of people over a particular period of time will ensure that
    album has some form of repetition, whether that’s deliberate or accidental,
    subtle or obvious. I think that’s what allows us to view albums as units, not
    just as singles to be picked and chosen.

    This very
    idea is what makes what DT did so interesting. Rather than use the album as a
    specific piece of musical motif, they went beyond the album format to tie in
    several albums together. Now the listener is forced to acknowledge the pieces
    of art together, as a cohesive whole; I don’t know anyone else that’s done that
    so effectively (with the use of musical motifs, specific sounds, etc.) as DT
    has. So you can look at the repetition, the snapshot, of one album, but you
    can’t remove it from the whole unit of albums, or you miss the entire motif,
    the entire repetition, the entire artistic purpose. Very amazing stuff.

    • Vote for Jeb

      The DT suite of albums is probably the closest I’ve come to finding Ring Theory put into practice in metal.

  • Hans Müller

    yeah, intent is key I’d say.
    e.g. to create a certain atmosphere in black metal:
    https://sunworship.bandcamp.com/album/elder-giants

    or if the genre is based on it. Krautrock hasn’t been mentioned yet:
    https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/plume
    speaking of genres based on it, follow-up question: what’s more important in Drone, repetition or volume?

    otherwise I listen to lots of grind, which is prone to people saying “this sounds like one song repeated 20 times” even if that’s true, it’s a good song, so shut up.
    that being said, here’s some grind I just came across.
    https://gestapolis.bandcamp.com/album/amagerland

    • Vote for Jeb

      Grind is an interesting genre because it is definitely built on repetition, but I think the short song lengths allow it to work.

      Also, greetings!

  • xengineofdeathx

    I think repetition can be used really effectively, but some bands just wear our their welcome. Om are masters of getting the most out of few riffs though. I could listen to this song over and over again with zero effort.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=B9wvOCaDIR0

  • Matt Pike’s Sweaty Left Nipple

    Just noticed I got mentioned. Yay I’m famous! Iron Scorn is a great album.