Combining Mixed Meter and Rhythmic Displacement to Enhance Your Songwriting

In this lesson you'll learn how you can apply the unique concept of The Ruins Of Beverast to your own songwriting.

Ultimate Guitar
Combining Mixed Meter and Rhythmic Displacement to Enhance Your Songwriting

The Ruins Of Beverast are releasing a new album this year, and that has me giddy with excitement and an unquenchable thirst to binge-listen their entire discography for the umpteenth time. In my listening, I've discovered something very intriguing about one of the songs that got me into this remarkable band, and I want to share it with you, break it down and explain how you can apply the same concept to your own songwriting.

The particular track we'll be analyzing is entitled "The Restless Mills," off their 2009 album "Foulest Semen Of A Sheltered Elite" (okay, let's be adults here...). As you listen, you'll notice that there are these machine-like clanking sounds that repeat throughout the entire 12+ minutes of the song.

YouTube preview picture

Here's a fun fact – even though the song utilizes LOTS of mixed meter, the foundation of the song is actually these clanking sounds.

How so? The mixed meter of the song's various sections randomly switches the placement of the clanking sounds within the bar, which happens in this case because the clanking sounds recur at regular intervals of time, always staying tight with the tempo of the song (120 bpm – this also means that even though the song switches from regular speed to half-time and double-time, it still stays at one consistent tempo the entire way through). Depending on their placement in the bar, the clanking sounds could accent the music, stand out from the music, or give certain sections a different feel every time they repeat.

Here are a few examples:

  • At the very beginning of the song, the clanking sounds happen on beats 1 & 2 of the 4/4 bars, accenting the beginning of the tribal beat, then change placement as mixed meter is applied. At one point, they land on beats 2 & 3, accenting the end of the tribal beat.
  • When the tribal beat happens at the end of the song, the clanking sounds stay consistently on beats 3 & 4 to create call and response between them and the drums.
  • When you first hear the blast beat section, the clanking sounds fall on beat 4 of one bar, and beat 1 of the following bar, creating a "slingshot" effect that makes it seem as if they're "shooting" the song forward.
  • When the blast beat section happens the second time, the clanking sounds fall on beats 1 & 2, strongly accenting the beginning of each bar.

With all of this in mind, what is it that you're trying to create by applying these concepts? The answer is tension (or shall we say..."restlessness").

Mixed meter creates tension by breaking up a pattern we become accustomed to hearing (the time signature), creating a cognitive disturbance that forces us to re-examine where the pattern is, so that we can stay on track with the song. Rhythmic displacement creates tension not by breaking the pattern, but re-positioning it so that we have to re-evaluate and rediscover the pattern's beginning and end points. Both concepts are mental curve-balls, and when you merge them together, the tension they create amplifies exponentially, as heard at the 8:12 mark where the clanking sounds get displaced much more frequently.

And yet, the majority of the song has a strange sense of comfort. This is because with the clanking sounds recurring at regular intervals, they act as a constant pulse, moving the song forward no matter how much the it likes to dance around them. This is why, with as much tension and restlessness that the song creates, it doesn't necessarily sound unpleasant to listen to.

The steps to applying this concept to your own songwriting are pretty simple:

  1. Have a sound recurring at the same constant interval of time, at a specific tempo
  2. Place the pattern over an entire song/section you write of the same tempo

Or, you can make things more challenging by writing your song around the pattern, planning things out so that the pattern can complement the song exactly as you want it to. This is what I feel Alexander Von Meilenwald (the sole composer behind The Ruins Of Beverast) did with "The Restless Mills."

You can also replace the clanking sounds with 2 different pitches – maybe even played by 2 different instruments. These 2 pitches will create a different emotional effect depending on what chords are being played underneath. You can then change keys while keeping the 2 pitches the same.

The possibilities are endless. Feel free to share your ideas and feedback below!

About The Author:
Ryan Mueller is a guitarist playing in Toronto-based metal band Sovereign. He also teaches guitar lessons in Etobicoke.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great article Ryan! Now I really want to hear this track with these "clanking" sounds... can't listen right now, will check it out tomorrow.
    Thank you Daniel! It's one of my favourites by them. The clanking sounds are easy to point out for the most part, but can be hard to hear as the whole band goes on full blast - but if you listen hard, you can see how the clanking sounds accent and enhance everything the song does
    Im waiting for the clank memes! It works, the clanking. Cool. I sometimes try to clap along in 4 on odd time signatures. most of the time I fail but sometimes you find these pulse type feelings which actually work. I must admit I skipped through the song to hear the different placements. Thanks!
    While I would definitely recommend listening to the whole song to hear how it progresses, climaxes, and to further understand the context in how the clanking enhances each section, I'm glad you enjoyed the article and are experimenting with these concepts!