Mathcore Madness

I've seen this come up a few times, and seeing as it is growing so rapidly in popularity – particularly in my home country – I thought I'd write up a few notes on its origins, style, and the best the genre has to offer, particularly seeing as it was one of the first genres I really found interest in (even though I had little idea of it at the time beyond a handful of artists). Essentially the genre is comprised of two parts: “core” is the section everyone detests, referencing the influences from hardcore, post-hardcore, metalcore, grindcore or deathcore. The other portion, “math,” requires perhaps a little more of a history lesson.

In fact, its earliest roots that I know of lie in the 50s and 60s jazz stylings of Sun Ra, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, more specifically their work in developing what's called “Free Jazz.” Much as the name would have you expect it's pretty free sounding; there is no standardised structure or tempo, no solid base such as a verse or chorus, and often no clear coherency between musicians, utilising polyrhythms to create a dissonant structure. Much of it comes across like a bizarre improvisation piece with the general atmosphere and tone strived for being of critical importance. In fact, trying to both create something sounding 'Free' and yet still come across as somewhat tuneful would turn out to be a difficulty that would alienate most Jazz enthusiasts from the sub-genre, and is still probably the biggest obstacle with mathcore today, even though no artist now comes close to matching the sheer technicality of some of these compositions.

It was from here that in the 80s it's influences could finally be felt in the modern rock movement. Bands like Atheist, Cynic and Gorguts would take Jazz influences and incorporate it into the genre of Death metal giving birth to “Tech Death.” Around the same time contemporary rock musicians starting taking this idea of a free flowing song structure, with the likes of Slint, many of Albini's works, and perhaps most famously Frank Zappa giving rise to the genre of “Math Rock.” It should be important to note that there is no real difference between the terms “Tech” and “Math,” they simply caught on to two distinct genres of music. It only makes sense then as Hardcore Punk began to be on the rise that bands began to experiment with it as well, with the likes of Botch and Converge making their presence known.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and suddenly a new face is becoming prominent in the music industry: the rise of post-hardcore. It's in 1999 with Dillinger Escape Plan's “Calculating Infinity,” shortly followed by Sikth's “The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait for Something Wild...” that the most commonly heard form today was born, but – as with Free Jazz before it – it was not to be an easy path to take, with DEP significantly toning down their work as the years progressed and Sikth disbanding entirely. Few bands would come and go with little recognition from the media, and it would be only much later, with the rise of Djent, that finally the genre would fine a niche scene in which it could flourish.

The term whilst not first used by Meshuggah, a Technical/Groove Metal band, it was certainly used to describe a particular tone they employed in their music; very high gain, low pitched, heavily distorted and yet with enough precision that even at the fastest of tempo's each note could be distinctly heard. To my understanding - and I'm not entirely sure this really is it's first usage - the term was first used on the forums at by two guitarists, Misha Mansoor and Acle Kahney, the lead guitarists who would go on to form Periphery and Tesseract, then teenagers who would post their work to one another for feedback on ability, technicality, and how close they were to achieving this "Djent" tone, so named for it's onomatopoeic value. It is in this Djent tone that a 'base' could finally be obtained for the mathcore genre, allowing for a stable rhythm section to ground the music and prevent it from sounding too improvisational and inaccessible in its nature. It should be noted that whilst not a genre in its own right, it can be a useful descriptor in identifying a style of playing.

In the past few years the entire genre has seen a massive boom in activity, both in artists taking the post-hardcore route outlined for them already, or often combining it with post-rock (e.g. Cyclamen), Jazz (e.g. Lye By Mistake), Death Metal (Veil of Maya, Between the Buried and Me), Progressive Metal (Tesseract), Ambient (Chimp Spanner) and even with artists such as Protest the Hero, BTBAM and Rolo Tomassi achieving relatively mainstream success. In fact, it's becoming more common for artists performing the genre to strive to achieve a contrast between passages, dividing their time between a more traditional 'chaos' and a swooping, melancholic tone, though across the pond in the US, there is certainly often a greater tendency towards Death Metal or Grindcore influences. So there we have it, if you've made it all the way to the end congratulations, you should no longer be ignorant of the genre. For a few suggestions of where to start diving into this treasure trove of wonders, there is a spoiler link below with a few ideas.

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