Bass in Death Metal?
Q: What is your opinion of the role of bass in both Death Metal and Black Metal? I’m a big fan of both styles and have tried to work out by ear, exactly what the bass is doing, but within these styles, the bass is very seldom heard. In a situation like this, what’s the best way of playing along with a recording, or playing a particular bass part?
A: I’ll start by admitting that I’m a little outside of my wheel house here. Back when I was really into metal there was only hair metal and heavy metal, with a slight overlap into death metal. Metal these days has countless sub-genres and I’m not entirely sure what the differences are between them.
From what I can tell, the only real difference between death and black metal are in the drums (and the makeup). Blast beats abound on most of the black metal stuff I took a look at. The rest seemed pretty similar in approach, and the role of the bass stayed the same. Essentially, the bass is a sub-octave extension of the guitar in most of the examples I heard. Although, with both of these styles, the bass is indeed hard to discern. Partially because they are basically doubling the guitar rhythms while following the root motion and partially because everything is extra crunchy and distorted and, finally, much of this music is tuned down so it’s extra low and thick. Very hard to pick out the subtleties in a line.
The best way I’ve found to pick out hard to hear bass lines in a transcription setting is to put the track into a “slow-downer” app like Transcribe or Capo, and bump it up one octave. This can be hilarious with music we’re talking about, but you should be able to pick out the bass work a little bit easier.
Regardless, for playing along with recordings, you should try your hardest to find the exact line (note for note), try and get the right sound and just drill it over and over again. If you can’t tell what the bassist is actually doing, chances are the bassist is playing along with the guitarist(s). Find those roots and lock that rhythm to the grid, drink a Red Bull, keep a bucket of water near by to cool off those fingers in between riffs, and hit it!
Readers, what is your recommendation for transcribing those hard-to-hear bass lines? Please share in the comments.