Why Symphonic Metal Is So Popular

Written by: AngelofDeth
Published: 03.10.2012
Near the turn of the new millennium a new sub-genre was quickly gaining popularity and within a few years it had become and remains a mainstream staple in the modern metal scene. This genre was dubbed "symphonic metal" and, save a few exceptions, it continues to be dominated by female-fronted bands.

As most everyone in the metal community knows, band members throughout metal's history are nearly exclusively male. So why the sudden influx of female-fronted bands in metal's mainstream?

An old history professor of mine had a theory to a similar question in Medieval history. We were on the topic of the Cult of Mary in Christian Europe during the years 500-1500AD. These were the Dark Ages and times were tough, Christ brought people hope through salvation in the afterlife but also he was a strict God and had the power to condemn you to Hell. This strict image of Christ brought people to fear him in an already tough time. So people turned to Mary, she is sacred and holy but only comforts and protects you. She doesn't have the power to send you to hell and has a motherly aspect to her. If you had to seek comfort as a child who did you turn too? Mother - Mary embodied this which is why so many sought her in addition to Christ.

This theory got me thinking that the same ideas could be applied to the metal community. Throughout our entire history we've had male-dominated bands that are yelling/screaming into our ears about the violence, terror, evil, depression and misery of life. Though, we do love our music this way, some of us need a break from these dark music and screaming from time to time. And whats better than the sweet sound of a woman singing over sweeping orchestrations and the still familiar distorted guitar riffs, like Nightwish. To me a woman's voice is soothing and serenading after a barrage of blast beats and hyper-speed riffs, like a mother's comfort after a stern lecture from father, and furthermore, like the Comfort of Mary in face of the threat of damnation from God.

Metal is similar to the Dark Ages in its brutality and well.. darkness! Some of us need to see the lighter side from time to time. In this way symphonic metal mirrors the Cult of Mary, to provide comfort and a break from the godly harshness of our other favorite genres.


Though, this is still a theory, and a theory based on another theory at that. So what do you guys think?


 
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.




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Ace Frawley - 04.10.2012 at 10:38  
Interesting theory - maybe you could do some polling to determine if there is anything to it.
NocturnalStalker - 04.10.2012 at 17:05  
Maybe there is some truth to it. Though, in my case I find most of those bands to be too sugar-sweet to have that soothing motherly effect.
Susan - 18.10.2012 at 06:41  
I totally see validity in this theory. Yes, lots of female-fronted metal TODAY is "sugar-sweet" as someone said, but initially the use of soprano vocals in metal achieved a very different effect.

Look at the bands who brought this to the (metal) mainstream in the mid and late 90s. Therion was making a hybrid of death metal and symphonic elements, and prominently featured a soprano over much of 1996's Theli. Then you had bands like Theatre of Tragedy and Tristania who probably fit the theme of this article the best: they played harsh metal with harsh vocals and presented the soothing female voice as a counterpoint to that. Later The Sins Of Thy Beloved and even Battlelore employed this similarly balanced juxtaposition with a really soft, light soprano.
R'Vannith - 18.10.2012 at 11:30  
I don't agree with your old history professor's idea, but I can see how the theory can be applied in relation to symphonic metal these days.
Though I suppose there are other musical avenues within metal you can take to get some of that soothing, comforting feeling as well. And there's always the issue of personal taste, some people find different forms of music comforting.
Bad English - 25.10.2012 at 23:19  
Its Theory only theory , its more wo,en get more wrights, women is not anymore kitchen slave and sex bject , women ha smore opotunities in society , women is more free and more can get into metal
carltonh - 01.06.2013 at 09:20  
Let me expand on the historical theory side. Note I'm not trying to debate, just add information. Since Christianity of the Dark Ages was brought up, here are details you won't find common. The languages of Jesus were Hebrew and Aramaic. When there was the discussion of the "Holy Spirit", this phrase was "Ruach HaKodesh". In these languages, the term was feminine gender. However, when translated into Greek, it became neuter gender. Then translated from Greek into Latin it became masculine gender. The famous saint/translator of the Latin Vulgate Jerome acknowledged this paradox, but did nothing to correct it. So when Latin Christianity conquered Western Europe in the Dark Ages, it did so without a feminine aspect of God. As you mentioned, Mary became the replacement.
Sunioj - 02.06.2013 at 10:05  
Well, I see it as a matter of dynamics. Following a brutal passage with a calmer, more melodic one lets the mind rest and process everything mentally. Black Metal does this quite a bit IMHO and of course this definitely applies to the melodic genres. Death Metal can apply this same method, but it does it in a much different way with sludgy, doomy parts as the 'calm' in which 'calm' is perceived subjectively.

Though, I will say that growing up with family that have been playing in choirs/classical music as well as being catholic, I can understand the comparison. I think a female voice used in that specific sort of dynamic definitely has that effect as mentioned in the article.
Tod_Engel - 04.06.2013 at 20:14  
It is an interesting hypothesis - you are trying to find comparison in human psychology, metal music and medieval history. I agree with the "softly motherly" side of Mary and female vocalists in metal.

On the other hand one statement that you come up with is a bit illogical, because you get wrong the notion of "Dark Ages". It's not about the human darkness and brutality of the age, but because it is called like that due to lack of written evidence. In that time 99% of people didn't know how to write or read, except some in the Catholicy clergy or high nobility.
The Shape 1973 - 04.06.2013 at 20:39  
Not sure if it is the female vocals that draws me to the genre. To my ears the mix of classical orchestras and metal go together really well, especially in Power metal. The epic film score sound works for me. I like the whole bombastic feel to it. Making it more dramatic and filling in gaps in the sound.

Some male fronted bands suit the mix as well. Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody, Avantasia and Wintersun to name a few.

I believe that the orchestras should be there to back up the metal and not the other way round. If you think of Metallica's S&M, where the orchestra went off doing its own thing, it did not work. Whereas Epica's Classical Conspiracy worked very well because they complemented each other rather than trying to out do one another.

Main theory for me is to why its popular is because it is accessible for non-metal heads as well. Its closer to mainstream music and is not designed to shock people who are not in to more extreme styles. Even my wife likes Nightwish and Serenity (she normally listens to Michael Buble), but can't stand anything else I listen to.
AngelofDeth - 04.06.2013 at 21:10  
Written by Tod_Engel on 04.06.2013 at 20:14

On the other hand one statement that you come up with is a bit illogical, because you get wrong the notion of "Dark Ages". It's not about the human darkness and brutality of the age, but because it is called like that due to lack of written evidence. In that time 99% of people didn't know how to write or read, except some in the Catholicy clergy or high nobility.

Touche! Yes, the use of that term is debatable but it seemed to fit very nicely at the time. Anyway this is more of a half-baked idea than a definitive thesis and to be honest the more time goes on the more I feel this is a far-fetched idea.
rdhelli@gmail.com - 09.07.2013 at 21:09  
I like your idea, I also happen to turn to this side of metal music when I am a bit more sensitive than on average. While children seem to turn to their mother these times. However, I felt your theory was overly explained.

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