Ever since I began to listen to rock and metal some twenty years ago now, I have been delighted by and frustrated by a particular phenomenon…the instrumental interlude. Most of the time, these pieces of music are used as an introduction to an album or as a closer. Often, instrumentals act as book-ends, both opening and closing an album and frequently, they can be found littering albums at various points.
I’m not aware of many other genres of music employing this ‘technique’, if you can call it that and yet, rock and metal is riddled with it. In fact, there are certain genres (black metal for example) where it comes as a shock to the system when an album opens up with a blast beat or a shriek rather than a more soothing symphonic refrain courtesy of the resident keyboardist or, if the budget allows, a real orchestra.
But, the question remains – are instrumental intros, outros and interludes a waste of time or do they serve a genuine purpose?
The answer, as always, depends on the quality that is being offered. Some albums are rubbish and no amount of clever, atmospheric, challenging or downright weird pieces of music will save them. Sometimes, an instrumental piece will be an exercise in padding, to bulk out a shortfall in worthwhile material whilst others serve a better purpose, acting as introductions, bridges or narration to that very metal of inventions, the concept album.
Personally, if the piece of music is well-written and is not just a throw-away composition, I tend to be a fan of them. But, if they serve no logical purpose or if they simply don’t add anything of value to the album, I’d rather they were removed. For example, I don’t get those 20-second sections of noise that masquerade as an intro as they tend to start the album on a negative footing. Neither do I enjoy the inevitable disruption in flow when something similar pops up in the middle of a record. Nevertheless, as foibles go, I can generally cope with this one from the rock and metal scene.
But it wouldn’t be the same without a few examples, so here are a few of the best and worst that the scene has to offer in my opinion:
Type O Negative – I love Type O Negative. Not seeing them live is one of my biggest music-related regrets. And yet, their albums delight and annoy in equal measure. Both ‘Bloody Kisses’ and ‘October Rust’ are firm favourites of mine but both contain no less than three of these instrumental interludes, all of which are, in my opinion, an utter waste of time. Admittedly they don’t last long and are quickly forgotten but if that’s the case, what’s the point?
In the case of ‘Bloody Kisses’, the album opens with ‘Machine Screw’ which is comprised of a woman moaning over a backdrop of a whining industrial noise whilst ‘Fay Wray Come Out and Play’ is a minute-long chant with howling wolves in the background.
‘October Rust’ on the other hand, doesn’t offer listeners anything closely resembling a song until track three. The album opens with ‘Bad Ground’, 30 seconds of an indeciperable noise before leading into an untitled track which is the band thanking fans for buying the album. It’s a nice enough touch but I question it’s necessity on the album.
Kamelot – Another band that I have liked for many years but who fall foul of the ‘pointless intro and interlude’ category. Their otherwise fantastic album ‘Epica’ for example features no less than five instrumental interludes and I’m hard-pressed to understand any of them. The band and die-hard fans will perhaps argue that they maintain an ebb and flow to the album but the fact remains that none of them are memorable or particularly interesting and I could happily live without them. I liken them to annoying advert breaks in the middle of your favourite TV show.
But arguably worse than this are the three interludes within ‘The Black Halo’, none of which contain anything that I would call music. Instead they’re just film-like excerpts within the album. Only one word required: skip.
There are, no doubt, a ton of other examples of poor or unnecessary instrumentals but these two culprits immediately spring to mind
Bal Sagoth – ‘Black Dragons Soar Above The Mountain Of Shadows’
If ever there was an instrumental opener designed to get the blood pumping, this is it. Performed exclusively by keyboards, this is pure sci-fi fantasy music. It could easily be the soundtrack to your favourite fantasy novel such is it’s pomposity and grandiosity – personally, I picture Sparhawk, the hero in David Eddings’ ‘The Elenium’ and ‘The Tamuli’ trilogies astride his trusty steed on the edge of a windswept cliff as I listen. But I digress…
The minute I heard this instrumental opening, I knew I was going to enjoy Bal Sagoth. It is completely in keeping with the excesses on display throughout the remainder of the album and therefore gives listeners an gentle insight into the barbarian metal that is to follow. A great album overall, opened up by a fantastic instrumental piece.
In Flames – The Jester’s Dance
In a slight change of pace, this instrumental does not open up ‘The Jester Race’, but instead sits in the track two position. This classic melodic death metal album begins with the brilliant ‘Moonshield’ before giving way to this beautiful two-minute instrumental. As mentioned in a previouds post, I discovered this album via a Spanish friend at University on a beaten-up old cassette tape. At first I was not sure about my first taste of melodic death metal. However, I loved this instrumental piece from the get-go and it gave me the incentive I needed to keep listening. Witout ‘The Jester Dance’ with it’s juxtaposition of sublime guitar melodies, galloping bass line and heavy riffing, I might not have got into this genre at the time and my musical development may have taken a completely different tack.
At The Gates – The Flames Of The End
What better way to round out a near-perfect and genre-defining album than with a sensational outro. With ‘Slaughter of the Soul’, At The Gates created what is regarded by many as the melodic death metal album, the album from which all else came and the one that is lauded as the creator of the melodic death metal scene now known as ‘The gothernburg sound’.
Aside from the massive opening track, it is the outro instrumental that I enjoy most on this album. The track builds wonderfully beginning with quietly and slowly, led initially by synths before being joined by a simple drum beat. And then, at the half-way mark, the guitars come in. First with a cool distorted riff and then all hell breaks loose. The riff continues but this time is overlaid with some awesome guitar feedback effects. It is a solo of sorts but all done through the medium of distortion feedback and it sounds epic. If you’ve never heard this instrumental, you’ve missed out.
Dimmu Borgir – Det nye riket
If I’m being honest, the debut album from one of the most well-known extreme metal bands was pretty average. The compositions are not that inspiring and, in terms of black metal, the music is very much in keeping with the genre at that time. The budget, as you’d expect from a debut album, must have been small as the production and artwork left a lot to be desired.
And yet, the album opens with one of the most memorable and fantastic instrumentals that I have in my ever-increasing collection. Spanning over five minutes, it is a relatively long opening salvo but it immediately grabbed me and I listen to it on a regular basis. In addition to the simple, slow-paced melodies and faux-orchestral synth work, what makes this track even more special is the spoken-word section towards the end. The Norwegian language has never sounded so mysterious and downright ominous.