In a sense, vocals are simply another instrument in the mix, but, thanks to the power of language, we approach instrumental music in a completely different way than we approach music with lyrics. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words; music is another mode of communication entirely.
People often compare audio and visual art for the way they both evoke imagery and elicit emotion, but songs seem so much more subjective than paintings. Two people can hear the same performance and envision a far different canvas, or even a different medium altogether.
Words play a huge part in shaping this experience. The music builds an emotional energy that can be funneled in a certain direction by the lyrics in the same way circuits channel electricity. Think about how much even knowing the title changes your perception of the sounds tumbling into your eardrums. Without information like that, we become our own tour guides, so to speak.
Also, the absence of the human voice causes heightened attention to everything else going on in a song. Listen to the instrumental version of your favorite rap song and see how many sounds you never noticed before.
So nuance (or lack thereof) becomes exceedingly important in instrumental music. Every note, chord and aesthetic decision matters exponentially more. This is true in any genre, metal included. The devil horns are in the details.
That was the Achilles heel when White Wolves, the trio featuring Sleepers Awake guitarist Chris Thompson and drummer Chris Burnsides plus bassist Jack Huston, played Ace of Cups last Thursday as openers for Yob.
I want to be totally clear that I mean it as a compliment when I say White Wolves’ music reminded me of my middle school basement days, when there was real joy and beauty in exploring metal’s tricks of the trade. Harmonic shredding; brutal double-bass kicks; a gnarly groove interrupted by an even gnarlier chord change. Work that drop-D chug and slide!
As such, I enjoyed their set, but only to a point. A lot of good ideas were in the mix, but they seemed unrefined — monsters in development, still struggling through adolescent awkwardness but primed to roar someday with the requisite seasoning.