In this lesson, I'd like to start off with a little story as an example of the process I'm suggesting here. Through this story, it should allow you to grasp and mimic said process to set yourself apart from sounding like a generic imitation.
When we first formed Mute Prophet, Chris, James and myself sat down together and tried to figure out how we wanted to sound. After a lot of deliberation, it turned out that the only element on which we could agree was a female lead vocalist. We found that the higher vocal registers led to a more exciting, powerful sound than lower male vocal pitches.
From here, I had the idea of continuing the process by building upon this one established element by essentially stacking compliments, one on top of the other, until each instrument had locked into a coherent picture.
The vocals which Lauren and Carissa use together in our music are a mixture of a powerful rock style and a haunting operatic style. The powerful attitude lent itself to some form of rock or metal, but they didn't have enough power on their own. So, we added downtuned, seven-string guitar riffs in the high-gain, progressive metal style of the likes of Jeff Loomis or John Petrucci. This backing of low, technical riffs on the guitar and bass added a particularly unique, brutal contrast to the clean, pretty vocals.
From here, we addressed the drums. Of course, the style of drumming varies from song to song, but an overall set of motifs tend to occur; a strong snare accent that keeps the vocals and guitars pumping; airy, shimmery cymbals that mesh with the bright female vocals; and precise kick drums that lock in with and add punch to the guitar riffs.
From here, we found that, while the rhythm of the tracks could dictate some amount of emotion through pacing, we felt that we should have more harmonic content. Metal riffs, while awesome, tend to consist of single-string note groupings, or power chord chugs. Without the essential interval of the "third," there is no emotion to be found in the rhythm section. So, we added in synth elements. Epic choir synths playing deep, full chords packed with emotion. Melodic piano twinkles. Orchestral string ensembles that soared above the rest of the rhythm section.
And by this point, we realized that we sounded an awful lot like Nightwish, albeit if Emppu Vuorinen played lower, more interesting guitar riffs. Carissa's voice had a strong resemblance to Tarja's, and Lauren's voice had a strong resemblance to Annette's. And, as just about anyone will tell you, a singer's voice and established style is very difficult to change. So, it was up to us to move away from any further similarities.
We turned to progressive metal elements. Polymeters, key changes, complex chains of time signature changes, and, of course, absurd guitar solos. We combined the pure, unapologetic shredding of Rusty Cooley with the gorgeous fusion style of Guthrie Govan, resulting in a technical yet tasteful style of soloing that appeals to both metalheads and casual listeners.
Through this process of stacking additions, we defined a sound that, in spite of earnest trying, we cannot quite identify in any pre-existing bands. It is this same process that will allow you to set yourself apart from the metal clones that saturate the genre right now.