Washington Think Tank with W.: What’s the perfect song length?

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Greetings, toileteers! It’s been a minute since I wrote a Think Tank post. Much has transpired in the previous weeks, but I shan’t bore you with the details. All that matters now is that my loins once again burn with what I assume (and desperately hope) are intriguing queries into the very fiber of this genre we love. So put your thinking caps back on, my brainy constituents, because I need some answers.

Today’s Question: What’s the perfect song length?

Metal is certainly no stranger to extremes, especially in song-length. From Napalm Death‘s three-second stunner “You Suffer” to Inter Arma‘s recent 46-minute opus “The Cavern,” our favorite genre is certainly home to a wide array of song lengths. However, is every length of song appropriate for every genre? Should thrash metal bands write 14-minute scorchers? Should technical death metal bands play three-minute anthems? Does it even matter? The Masterlord contends that it does, and it is on his behalf that I present this question. What’s the perfect song length for your favorite genre? Below I present some of my preferences and songs to illustrate those tastes, but you probably think I’m a cotton-headed ninnymuggins who should stick to painting pictures of dogs in bath tubs or something. So, after you peruse my selections, let me know what you think!

Exhibit A: Grindcore – 2:00 to 4:00 minutes. As much as I love the short bursts of insanity, I think bands like Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer can really inject a substantial amount of style and innovation into the grind framework with a slightly longer running time.


Exhibit B: Death Metal – 4:00 to 6:00 minutes. I think five minutes is just about the perfect length for a death metal band to get its point across without sounding too redundant. Short, but not too short, this running time allows for tasteful riffs, solos, and blasts aplenty without wearing out its welcome.


Exhibit C: Black Metal – 5:00 to 7:00 minutes. I think a lot of black metal bands, in attempting to craft a suitably epic soundscape, need slightly more time to devote to the atmosphere. This longer amount allows for the true feeling and scope of black metal fury to be realized.


Exhibit D: Doom Metal – 10:00+ minutes. Doom metal bands should play in long form. The mesmerizing riffs and crushing caveman drums are just begging to have room to breathe, and the impact can be lessened when the song is shortened.


These are just my preferences, and I’ve certainly left out a copious number of genres/subgenres, but I’ve given you enough material with which to work. I should also probably mention that diversity is the spice of life, so a drastic change in song length can really add that extra oomph to an album. But  now it’s your turn. What’s the perfect length for a metal song? What are some great examples in your favorite subgenres of bands who have nailed that perfect length? Sound off in the comments below.

Big thanks to the Masterlord for this idea.

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 regular column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

(Photo VIA)

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  • I think the length of a song is irrelevant as long as every note feels like it belongs. If a band seems like they are playing more notes for the sake of length and it isn’t adding anything to the song then it is the wrong length. Case in point: the majority of that new decapitated album. There is one song on there that’s like 7 minutes of the same fucking half-assed boring riff.

  • I agree on your song length choices for those subgenres. Great article!
    I’m interested in hearing what MSD and Randall Thor have to say about PM song lengths.
    I’ve thought a lot about this regarding Nails, as their shorter songs are perfect in that they don’t ever get boring, but I always crave more. Songs like this one give me reason to think they could pull off some longer, hulking behemoths of songwriting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXd8DVlGvsY

    • DDubya.

      Enabler are in a very similar boat.

    • THE LONGER THE BETTER.

      No, I like my power metal to be somewhere in the 4-6 minute mark, unless it’s a ballad, in which case THE LONGER THE BETTER.

    • NefariousDude

      Wish I could upvote you twice for nails

    • more beer

      I think Nails was the best band I saw in 2014 and saw a lot of bands.

  • KJM

    Not to sound all Zen about it but the perfect song length is the length that’s perfect for the song.

  • Also: Serpentskin>>>>>>>

  • Generally speaking, you’d better have a good ass reason to play a 7+ minute long song, otherwise my patience is tested and mostly fails. Sometimes it works doe.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk9Wk96yzBY

    • Hubert, Goat ov Doom and Void

      That song is >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    • Stockhausen

      Yesssssssss.

    • wouldn’t have expected that from you Joe! (a good thing fo sho)
      there’s a few good tracks on Mountain too

    • Janitor Jim Dvggan

      The epic when it comes to songs has to be 8 minutes or longer. I prefer long songs unless the song is not able to keep my attention for more than half of it.

  • Tyree

    That’s some epic grind Dubya. I play in a so called grind band and I think our longest song is just over 2 minutes.

    Also Dubs, check out this one man grind project from Norway called Parlamentarisk Sodomi. This is one of the longest grind songs I know of and also one of the best grind songs I’ve ever fucking heard. I strongly urge you to listen to this song and band. Incredible stuff!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbUeyw1ig98

    • DDubya.

      I definitely will! Also, how stoked are you for Apex Predator – Easy Meat? I really liked the progressive elements Napalm Death have injected lately, so I’m stoked to hear how they keep developing.

      • Tyree

        Dude! I’m definitely stoked. Love this artwork too.

        • DDubya.

          This song you posted is pretty righteous.

          • Tyree

            Oh my yes. You should find the whole album and listen to it. It’s a grind bliss.

          • DDubya.

            It’s on Spotify, I’m definitely going to check it out.

      • Napalm never dissappoints…….ever.

    • sweetooth0

      second that, this band slays!

      • sweetooth0

        Although the political lyrics in Norwegian go right over my head.

        • Tyree

          Ha, yeah. This guy is incredible though. I’m not sure if he has done much recently?

          • sweetooth0

            Nah, just the two full lengths and some splits. The version I have of the album you posted includes the Regnskog, Fred Og Vegetarmat 7″ as bonus tracks. Definitely like to hear more from him though.

    • DDubya.

      On the note of a long deathgrind song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5JaLsaCfTM

      • Technically it’s two songs, but they’re a really good two songs.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI1Yb-03BqE

        • DDubya.

          Love both parts!

        • Commander Shepard

          If the new record is even half as good as monolith of inhumanity, it will be album of the year.

          • Howard Dean

            That’s a bold statement to make, dear Sheppy. Bold and incorrect.

          • Commander Shepard

            That’s what I do, bold statements, galaxy defining decisions and things of that nature.

          • Howard Dean

            Poop nature.

          • Tyree

            A land where every thing is made of Poop. Poop rain, poop, water, poop, snow, poop food, poop trees, poop ocean, poop grass, poop babies. So on an so on.

          • KJM

            Is that anything like Planet Piss?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XobSbfimQM

          • Tyree

            It smells a bit nastier.

        • I’m about to YouTube mp3 this shit

  • 0 minutes 0 seconds. Destroy all music.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiP8w8QFddQ

  • Hubert, Goat ov Doom and Void

    I’ve been listening to a bunch of Swans lately so longer = better in my opinion. Though I almost always listen to albums in full so I often don’t notice one song ending and the next beginning. Especially some grindcore albums feel more like one long song with the actual songs only being parts of that song.

    • DDubya.

      I also prefer listening to full albums rather than individual songs.

  • Howard Dean

    Pretty digestible song length right here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrmBnN7aQ9s

    • DDubya.

      Oh dang, I remember reading about this. Have you listened to any of it?

      • Howard Dean

        Nope. Don’t have the time, patience, or desire–and I don’t even mind long, droning songs (I’ve listened to “Absolutego” by Boris on several occasions).

        EDIT: Speaking of Boris, they’ve gotten almost no love from the ToH/Facebook crowd so far, which is pretty surprising. There must be some among us who are crazy about them (I like a few of their albums).

        • Edward #negrodMMXV

          I like a few of their albums, too. Notably Amplifier Worship.

          • Howard Dean

            Absolutego and Amplifier Worship are great doom/drone. I really like Heavy Rocks II, also–it’s still heavy, but has some of the pop influence they’ve become known for.

        • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

          You found your man. Your man in Boris.

          • Howard Dean

            BYAH!

          • (my car sits really low to the ground, every time i hop in i go “BYAH!”… your royalty check should be coming soon)

          • Howard Dean

            Thanks. I take payment in American dollars, Euros, frankincense, and beef jerky

      • Leif Bearikson

        I listened to over an hour when it first came out. Pretty generic super slow drone

        • DDubya.

          Thanks, bear!

    • Tyree

      Dumb.

      • Howard Dean

        Cosigned.

    • lemme listen to this during lunch, will get back to ya…

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Holy shit, I’ll have to attempt some of this on my next flight

  • as long as it’s not a bunch of riff salad or meaningless wank I don’t think it matters. As long as the song flows and has parts the compliment one another and move the song along.

    • DDubya.

      Songcraft >>>>>

  • Thuacamole Jim

    I used to love epically long songs (big DT nerd reporting in!), but as I got older and began to study music I really learned to appreciate a concise, well-written song. It got harder for me to listen to ten minutes of extraneous notes when the meat of the song could have been perfected in three. That being said, when I write music I often find it sitting between the four- and six-minute marks.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Amen brutha. Cool as they can sometimes be, I just don’t have the time or attention span to listen to most of the ambient/post-blackened/cascadian/gazecore bands’ 19-minute atmospheric noodlings. Just give me a straightforward burst of intensity between two and six minutes and I’m all ears. A lot of that, like you said, is due to effective songwriting.

  • Huggy Bear OH YEAH

    I’d like to hear a doom / prog band make a 2-minute song and a punk band make a 20-minute one. Like At War With Satan but actually making sense.

    • Howard Dean

      Some of my favorite doom/sludge songs are shorter. Example — Vinum Sabbathi by Electric Wizard:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbmiKvjk-Mg

      • Tyree

        Agreed. I prefer my sludge to be shorter. Doom, not so much.

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

        • Howard Dean

          Buzzoven are one of those bands where you can legitimately feel how fucked up they are in their music. I think I remember reading a (potentially apocryphal) story about them a few years ago, about how when they signed with Roadrunner in the early 90’s, they freaked out the Roadrunner execs by shooting up heroin right in the office after they signed the papers. A lot of those early sludge bands were truly fucked–and they made great metal.

          • The truly fucked often make the best metal.

          • Tyree

            Absolutely sir. I had the privilege of seeing them 4 years ago in Baltimore. It was one of the heaviest and most dreadful (In a good way) concerts I’ve ever witnessed.

            I was pretty fucked up during the show too, so that helped.

    • DDubya.

      This one’s pretty short. Not really doom, though.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNkpAejuu58

      • Huggy Bear OH YEAH

        That’s basically Motorhead right there! But thanks for reminding me I should try to figure out what these guys are about.

    • Janitor Jim Dvggan

      I liked At War With Satan but I agree that it made no sense.

  • Tyree
  • This is, in my opinion, a great example of a long song done perfectly. Trivium-Shogun: http://youtu.be/tucpB76sDvw

  • In general for me, real good to great songs tend to be no longer than 3 minutes. I prefer grind over any genre so there’s a bias there. I do enjoy longer tracks here and there, Cave In’s Sing My Loves is expertly written so it has my interest from start to finish. When I see the 1st track on the new Machine Head is 7min long, I cringe. Like did you really need all those obligatory solos in there Rob?

    • Tyree

      In Grind we Crust!

    • Robb Flynn

      Yes, I did need them. That’s why they were obligatory.

    • DDubya.

      I figured people would definitely have some preferences. GRIND!

  • Scrimm

    I think it’s hard to say and depends on the person writing and maybe even the genre somewhat. For years all the songs we put together hovered around six minutes but as I wrote more and we added more death into what started as a straight black metal project some of the song lengths dropped. Out of the ones we’re recording now most are around 4-5 minutes, with one at 6 and one at 7. Nothing was planned. We have been toying around with the idea of making our Innsmouth ep were starting work on one long song, but we’ll see.

  • Commander Shepard

    In 2172 sleep released a 3 day song.

    • Tyree

      I can’t wait to be dead by then.

      • Commander Shepard

        No no, we talked about this, there is no dying in my time period. We discovered the secret to eternal life. There is only suffering.

        • DDubya.

          I’d rather die than live forever.

          • Commander Shepard

            I see where you are coming from, did I mention we also don’t age? However you can end it all. Just listen to emmure and you will slowly deteriorate into nothingness.

          • DDubya.

            Now, now, let’s not make any rash decisions.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Fuck that, I’ll take immortality anyday. Screw dying.

          • Lacertilian

            there can only be one.

  • NefariousDude

    Doesn’t really matter to me as long as it merits its own length. Generally id say about 3-4 minutes for most songs. But again it’s up to the song to pull it’s fucking weight during its time

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    How about cunting 20 minutes? Epic as shit.

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

    • Howard Dean

      Yes! Weakling. This Entire Fucking Battlefield!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU7EJNc6ipk

      • Edward #negrodMMXV

        Weakling are fantastic. They are often credited as early USBM innovators but I thought their album was far heavier than a lot of the acts that writers claimed they influenced.

        • YES THIS BAND AND THIS GENRE. They aren’t specifically DSBM, but close enough that I usually listen to them with bands like Leviathan, Celestia, and Bethlehem

  • JamesGrimm
    • oh good call JG! somehow i forgot that i love this band

      • JamesGrimm

        just bought the album. its fantastic.

  • Stockhausen

    The breakdown you provided is pretty much spot on Dubya. There are obviously exceptions, as we all know, and I think another big variable for me is variation between songs. Every song can be 6-7 minutes if they adequately stand alone, but if you can’t tell the difference when you drop the needle in the middle of any given song on an album, then 6-7 minutes is WAAAAY too long. I may or may not be thinking of Vermis here, despite my love for Ulcerate.

    Between the Buried and Me do an excellent job of providing a lot of variety in their massive song lengths. Love them or hate them, the creativity can’t be denied.

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

    • DDubya.

      Oh man, I like Ulcerate, but you’re right. Vermis was just a jim-jam of dense matter.

      • Edward #negrodMMXV

        The Destroyers of All >>>> Vermis

        I dunno why they made that stylistic decision.

        • Tyree

          I’m with you.

          • DDubya.

            And my axe!

      • Stockhausen

        I really, really wanted to like it, but the superiority of Destroyers just can’t be denied.

  • Stockhausen

    Before any of you posers talk about Morton Feldman or Satie’s Vexations, I’ll one up all of you with the Halberstadt performance of John Cage’s As Slow As Possible. It started in 2001 and will be done in 2640.

    • Thuacamole Jim
    • I want to attend one of the chord changes if I can

      • Stockhausen

        I am very, very legitimately considering taking a trip to Germany in 2020 for the next chord change. My wife is on board, and I’m 95% going to do it.

        • I may very well try to go to that as well, TOH meet up at the next John Cage chord change!

        • DDubya.

          Heck, I will probably be able to afford a trip to Germany in 2020.

  • Akercocke ov Steele

    I think grind can do with 2-4 minute songs. I have heard songs that have a kickass riff but they decide to make them only like 30 seconds which I find disappointing.

    • Tyree

      Nasum was like that for me. I love Nasum but I want some of the riffs to last longer.

      • DDubya.

        Aye. I like grind just a wee bit longer to let those riffs grow legs.

        • Tyree

          Some grind is better short though. I feel our good pals Fiend do the short songs very well. Each song is like one giant knock out punch. One after another.

          • DDubya.

            Oh yah, definitely that way with Fiend.

          • Tyree

            We talked before. We should see if those dudes would like to do an interview. You and I both have written about them and they seem to acknowledge us.

          • DDubya.

            I’m down, dude. It’s been a minute since I’ve done an interview.

          • Tyree

            Eeeeeeeee

      • Akercocke ov Steele

        Assuck would do the same damn thing and Disrupt did that with one song I really liked.

        • Tyree

          Aw yes, Assuck for sure. I honestly think they would have been considered full on Death Metal if it was not for the short songs.

          Disrupt fucking kills dude!!!!

  • Gridlink perfected the art of song length. then at the end of Longhena we get a 3 minutes epic!!! and we’re all like “wut?”

  • always enjoy reading W’s Think Tank

  • For me, it’s not about the length, it’s what you do with it.

    • DDubya.

      Are you talking about songs or something else?

    • Howard Dean

      As the old adage goes: “Long songs with thin sounding production will get you in but more brief songs with thicker production is where it’s at.” Or something like that.

      • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

        But long songs with a thick production will swipe from your feet and have you begging for more.

        • Howard Dean

          Once you go long songs with thick production, you never go back.

  • this little death metal ditty (2:22) marks the perfect ending to stellar album!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diwQpHlqJq4

  • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

    This was settled aeons ago.

    “To play the wrong notes, is irrelevant. To play wothojt emotion, is inexcusable.”

    Apply as an answer thusly. The length is irrelevant. The passion must carry throughout.

  • Leif Bearikson

    Obligatory YOB rules comment.

  • Janitor Jim Dvggan

    It depends. For classic rock songs, the perfect length is 2 to 4 minutes but for live versions of classic rock songs 5 to 7 minutes is perfect. The perfect length for a classic rock epic is 8 minutes or longer.

  • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

    When I write it always ends up 13+ minutes. And there aren’t even too many riffs. So I have to trim them a lot, which I don’t like at all. I enjoyed playing them more when they were longer, but I know they are mot as good listens that way.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Duh, it’s 6:66

  • Janitor Jim Dvggan

    Here’s two songs. One is the perfect length for a classic rock epic. One is not. As you can see, the Blackfoot song is too short to be called an epic in my opinion and it doesn’t hold my interest. The first song is the perfect length for a longer epic and it holds my interest for the entire 14 minute run time. This is the difference between a classic rock epic and just a long classic rock song.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0biMIoOEdjo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mve2ElcpXU

  • Got half an hour to kill per song? One of the few bands that can pull off a 30 minute song with being completely overblown or losing pace.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xEXTBW91us

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgZA5J00aeU

    • JWG

      Honestly, I was a bit dissapointed that the songs on the last Moonsorrow album were less than a half hour long each.

      These kind of set me up for that…

      • Well, they do have to have at least a few songs that they can fit in during their live shows. I saw them with Finntroll a few years back, and obviously none of the 30 minuters were on the set list. Still not bad at all though.

  • Malted Hate

    I’m a fan of long songs personally. 5 minutes is a good length. 10, 20, 30 is all good.
    I don’t mind 3 minute songs, but sometimes they feel too short, specially if I really love them ( sometimes I lock in into a specific song, and end up repeating them lots of times if they are too short). I don’t care for Grindcore, 30 second songs are useless to me…

    • DDubya.

      If I’m listening to grind, I’m probably listening to the whole album

  • I just scrolled through all the comments. No power metal? You posers better learn.

    To discuss the perfect length for power metal songs, we must discuss the perfect flow of a power metal album.

    You may have an optional, super cheesy intro that your keyboardist wrote while he was taking a dump the other day. Ultimate length is 0:45 – 1:30. Any longer and you lose. Rhapsody started off perfectly, but began to break and abuse the intro later in their career.

    Normal song length is 4-6 minutes. Get your verse/chorus repeats in, have a solo, one or two more choruses, call it a day. Then the final track must be the epic, and it must be about 10-15 minutes long. Any longer, and you must be Rhapsody or Equilibrium, or else I’m not going to listen to it.

    Any questions?

  • Max

    There’s so many exceptions to the following rule that I my point is practically redundant before I’ve even made it – but, it’s my considered opinion that: Any band who plays music at, say, 90 bpm or above and composes a song longer than 4:30-ish really needs to question whether the song requires that much length or that many parts. I’ve heard a lot of 7-minute songs that warranted the seven minutes, but I’ve also heard a lot that didn’t – particularly in relation to black metal, I’ve found.

    Don’t forget that familiarity with a song changes the listener’s perception of it in a number of ways, especially with relation to time. The first time you listen to a song (and you’re actually paying attention), it’ll seem a lot longer than it does on subsequent listens. So you get a pretty instant idea of whether the composition deserves its length or could have done with less repeats of a riff, some sections done away with, etc. Bands, however, have a blind spot here; because by the time they even finish putting a song together as a band – let alone subsequent rehearsing and then recording – they’ve already heard the song many times over; so they forget how much of an ordeal to sit through their composition might be.

    So by all means write a 9-minute epic, but ask yourself: Is the 9-minute epic you wrote really that, or just a five-minute number that has twice as many verses and choruses as necessary? Deliberately come up with a cut-down version (imagine doing a “radio edit”, even for music not played on the radio) and see if you actually prefer that. You’d be surprised how much your feelings can change about the required length or even the relevance of entire sections.

    • DDubya.

      Re: perception of songs changing as we hear them. Have you ever noticed a song feeling fast or slow depending on your mood or other factors?

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        Glad to see you took my advice 🙂

      • Max

        I don’t think it’s quite the same as what you’re describing; but one thing I definitely have experienced in terms of tempo:

        All throughout the ’80s I was only listening to mainstream music, most of which (naturally) hovers around a pretty average tempo. Once I got into faster, underground music later on, whenever I would hear a hit from my youth, they really did sound slower than I remembered – not all of them, but certainly songs that were supposed to sound kind of driving and “rambunctious” (by radio standards) like, say, “Dancing in the Dark” or even “Money For Nothing”.

        I distinctly recall this with a song called “Good Enough”on Van Halen’s 5150 album. I’ve had that record since I was twelve and know it back-the-front, but I certainly remember listening to it for the first time in years when I was about 20 and thinking it seemed slower. “Would I Lie To You” by the Eurythmics is another good example. That thing sounded like a wild party when I was a kid; now it sounds surprisingly tepid. But clearly, this is a case of perceptive comparison; if I’d never gotten into faster music I doubt it’d be an issue.

        Human brains are really good at doing two things: Making comparisons, and detecting patterns – which means that we’re inclined to do both even when there are no differences to compare or patterns in evidence. Studies have shown that people’s sense of taste can vary depending on the colour of crockery their food is served on. The senses are all completely interrelated; so perception-wise anything’s up for grabs, really.

        Further on tempo: I used to fuck around with drum machines/programming a lot, and personally, I have perceived that a drum rhythm can sound slower and more “sluggish” to me if it has noticeably heavy compression on it.

        In relation to drum rhythms at skank- and blast-type tempos, I’ve also noticed that two different rhythms at the same tempo can sound faster or slower than each other depending on what sort of rhythm they are, and what sort of instrumental mix is featured. Busier kick patterns, with the kick on the downbeat and snare on the upbeat, tend to make a rhythm seem more “galloping” and hence faster. Whereas having a dominant snare, on the downbeat, and a simpler kick pattern underneath it (say, alternating with the snare) will sound more sluggish.

        (Disqus really needs an audio file embedding function in order for me to explain this shit more clearly with examples. I hope I’ve made sense.)

  • George Clarke

    i have no idea because there are 30 second songs i love and ten minute songs i love

  • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

    Fuck I’m glad someone finally asked!
    Grind: 46 seconds
    Doom: 2 hours
    Black metal: 666 seconds
    Thrash: is dead
    Crust: Fuck off!
    Skronk: Potato
    Progressive: Losers don’t know…
    Death Metal: 3:53
    Pop: sucks
    OSDM: Have to ask Conan

    Thanks…class dismissed!

  • Lacertilian

    This song is the perfect length for a message tone on your phone. (0:04)
    I’ve been using it for years.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UliirRgI9Ik

    Another great Think Tank.

    • DDubya.

      Thanks man. I may have checked out this band at your recommendation once!