Harmonic Structures of 21st Century Heavy Metal

  • James Boddington Jordan

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Since the birth of heavy metal as a genre, many different styles of music that fall under the broad category of “metal music” have emerged, each having their own scenes and subcultures. This thesis investigates the relationship between subgenre and harmony, aiming to answer the question: how do the different subgenres of metal music in the 21st century handle harmony differently?

One hundred metal tracks from five different subgenres of metal were analysed, with data on which chords were used and which modulation techniques were employed recorded for each. Analysis of the data showed that, whilst each subgenre certainly recapitulates the techniques used by the early heavy metal bands of the 1970s and 1980s, each has its own signature style that is used to portray the desired sonic aesthetic of the subgenre. Most crucially, a specific modulation technique was found to be almost entirely unique to power metal, and is heavily used within the subgenre. Black metal bands were found to make heavy use of non-diatonic, pan-triadic sequences that are well suited to a neo-Riemannian perspective on harmony
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJan Herbst (Main Supervisor)

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