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Harmonic function and modality in classic heavy metal1

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This article explores harmonic function, modality and guitar distortion in so-called classic heavy metal. I suggest a dual framework for analysing heavy metal, including such mirror-symmetries as ‘major’/‘minor’, ‘sharp’/‘flat’, ‘bright’/‘dark’, ‘dominant’/‘subdominant’ and ‘authentic’/‘plagal’. My central aim is to demonstrate that heavy metal harmony tends towards plagal systems and darker modes, and yet has constant major elements added from the distorted power chords.
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Keywords: dualism; guitar distortion; harmonic function; heavy metal; modes; music analysis; music theory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • Metal Music Studies is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies.

    The aims of the journal are:
    • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
    • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
    • To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
    • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.
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