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The genius of Hieronymus Bosch

No, not the painter. The death metal band. You know, the perpetually unappreciated band that toiled away in hidden genius for two decades before they tragically broke up a couple years ago? Yeah, those guys.

Not that a split up band really needs more publicity, and not that my blog has a large number of readers, but I'm going to write a bit about one of my favorite underappreciated bands.

It's a trick the Internet plays on us. You think the world is flat and small, that you can be exposed to culture from all around the world, that everyone has equal opportunity in the digital global marketplace. Those truths are becoming even more evident with each passing day.

But none of that happened fast enough to save Hieronymus Bosch. The Internet came in time to let me hear their music, but not in time to save them from obscurity.

I heard about Hieronymus Bosch when looking up bands similar to Atheist online. Atheist is a special, wonderful band in their own right. The kind of technical death metal style they play sounded so unique to me that I wanted to go deeper into this genre. I found... not much of interest, really.

Except Hieronymus Bosch. I can hardly listen to Atheist anymore because the sound is so inferior to the true masters of technical death metal. But let's pause, as I've gone too far without even sharing some of their music. Play this one in the background as you continue to read.

Now as I said, you often see Hieronymus Bosch compared to other technical death metal bands like Atheist and Lethargy. But no. Hieronymus Bosch has something different, something particularly special and rare.

See, I have this theory about music. Being as I'm not at all trained in music theory and I don't have a particularly broad exposure to music, this could all be bullshit. But it feels right to me. I call it the unique sense of melody theory. Certain songwriters just seem to have the ability to put creatively enchanting melodies in nearly everything they do. Now, there are plenty of bands that can do this every now and again. There are even more bands that can do this once and become one hit wonders. But I'm talking about people who can do it over, and over, and over.

I don't claim that this is an official list of bands with unique senses of melody, but out of my collection of music, certain names do come to mind.

Sublime. Listen to any track and you hear catchy hooks and songs infused with intoxicating melodies throughout. This holds for their more hip hop songs like Doin' Time, their more punk songs like We're Only Gonna Die for Our Own Arrogance, their more ska songs like most of their library, etc. It's a universal. They had it.

Rage Against The Machine. The unique melody here comes from guitarist Tom Morello. Morello continued to show his genius in his future projects, but they were hampered by the lack of adequate supporting casts. Zack de la Rocha was great in his own way too, but he didn't bring much melody to the table.

Kanye West. Particularly on his solo albums, but also on the individual tracks he produces, there is unique melody. In his flow and in the beats. A lot of it is sampled, but that doesn't matter. The skill to create a special track from a sample still requires similar unique melodic skills in identifying the material to sample and assembling it cohesively.

Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. He is a somewhat less known hip hop produced than Kanye, but there is definitely something special infused in all his work, particularly in masterpieces like Sacrifice by Jedi Mind Tricks and No Return by Canibus. Lately he's moved away from rap, but his skill is still evident in tracks like Just Before The Rain by Dutch.

I was going to list Porcupine Tree and Opeth here too, as their older albums definitely give me similar impressions of greatness, but I just don't hear that unique sense of melody in their recent work. Is that fair? Would I hold them in higher regard if instead of fading away into mediocrity they made only a few perfect albums before disappearing, like Sublime, like Rage Against The Machine, like Hieronymus Bosch?

But back on topic, it's innately obvious to me that there is something special in Hieronymus Bosch that I haven't been able to find in any other similar band. The song I posted above was from their first album. A decade later, they released their second album, which I think was equally incredibly and even more complex. Here's a sample.

By the way, you have no idea how hard it is for me to select these characteristic Hieronymus Bosch tracks. All three of their albums are packed wall to wall with goodness. Straight killer, no filler.

I was a fan before they broke up. I knew they were something special back then, something I couldn't afford to let disappear. I also knew they were not at all popular in the US. I tried to turn some people onto them, but I don't really have a lot of metalhead friends. And even if I did manage to get them some fans, all those new fans could do was torrent their music. There was no way to buy it in the US. They had no merchandise for sale. They didn't have any shows here. It was hopelessly inevitable that they reached the fate they did.

Fortunately, there was no decade between their second and third albums, or their final masterpiece may never have been made. Here's a randomly selected track, as there are too many classics to choose from.

Each of their songs seems like a frantic yet coordinated movement between somehow exhibiting harmonious discord. Each song is as content-packed as the last. A lesser band could have stretched each song into multiple songs, or even each album into multiple album by adding some filler tracks. But if Hieronymus Bosch did that, they wouldn't have that magical essence at their core.

1 archived comment

  1. Nice article, heard about these guys ages and ages ago but could never find anything other than youtube clips...really liked what I heard though, what you say about them here seems to match the memories I have of the music. Thanks for reminding me!

    Comment by Arcticus — May 1, 2012 @ 1:16 am