Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Featured Artist: Diablo Swing Orchestra

DSO, as they are commonly known, are one of the weirdest bands not just in all of metal, but in all of modern Western music. Fusing heavy, chugged metal guitar riffs, swing/big-band influenced instrumentation and style and, on some occasions, Broadway-inspired vocal arrangements, DSO manage to create a blend of music that defies genre categorisation yet polarises its listeners all the same.

I, for one, am a huge fan of DSO's general musical direction.

Take the above track, 'A Tap Dancer's Dilemma', for example. All the DSO hallmarks are there - the swing beats, the horns and brasses, the heavy guitar riffing and the bombastic vocal parts.

The thing about DSO is that they do not merely include these musical elements, they manage to extract as much musical value as possible out of each aspect of their music. Very little of what they put out is superfluous - save for the random acoustic guitar line or vocal trill - and balance between each musical concept and texture is pretty much achieved.

Back to the track at hand: the swing-style drum beat opens the piece and sets the overall mood, and is soon joined by distorted electric guitars, muted trumpets and other lower brasses like trombones. And at about a minute in, the singing starts, and the instrumentation gets more and more flagrantly 'swing' from there on. The gypsy guitar solo at 2:10 and the following guitar/bass riff might seem a touch extravagant to the casual listener - but it actually adds to the texture of the song, which, as the title would suggest, ostensibly centres around the mental challenges a tap dancer would face (hence the folk/gypsy reference) but actually has more to do with the general dichotomy between religiousness and secularity.

The musical contrasts (notably male vocal-female vocal and rock-swing) serve to emphasise the abovementioned dichotomy: the song, in pairing the 'dominant' male vocal with heavier, more aggressive musical lines and assigning these parts to the more 'assertive' lyrics ("In the final hour, you can cleanse your soul by whispering") and then contrasting all that with the 'submissive' female vocal styling and the more melodic lines, seems to be aimed at mocking forced religiosity by portraying it as overbearing (which the music, at times, can well be), loud and pompous (self-explanatory).

In this piece and others, DSO use their varied instrumentation to create music that is not just catchy and easy to listen to, but has much deeper meaning than at first imagined. The many instruments and voices they have at hand enable them to play with contrasts in volume, tone, texture and style, producing pieces of high musical and literary value.

Of course, I will concede that not every piece matches up to 'A Tap Dancer's Dilemma' in terms of structure and musicality (the given analysis is incomplete; there is much, much more to the song than I can type in one sitting), but as far as benchmarks go, this song is extremely well put together and represents some of DSO's finest work. DSO are always worth a listen, and while they might sound off-putting at first hearing, their music will surely grow on most listeners.

- JE

Other DSO recommendations
- Ballrog Boogie
- Honey Trap Aftermath

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