Periphery: Being Heavy Is Not About Low Tuning and Number of Strings, It's About Attitude

"A lot of people think all our songs are on 7-strings."

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Periphery: Being Heavy Is Not About Low Tuning and Number of Strings, It's About Attitude
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Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb discussed the essence heavy music, telling Thomann Music (transcribed by UG):

"You can sound heavy in any tuning. To me, it's about intent; it's about writing, it's about the attitude of a riff, it's about what it embodies and how it comes across.

"And even lyrics! The lyrics can make a part seem heavy as balls!

"There's so many things - a freaking drum beat! A drum beat! If you put a straight four on the floor drum beat over 'New Groove' or 'The Walk' [off 2010's 'Periphery'] or something like that, it would be the least heavy thing ever.

"It's not about the riff, it's about everything coming together."



Mark also touched on this topic while discussing the band's approach to writing music, saying:

"We like to do our writing together in a room. I'm saying me, and Misha, and Jake - the three guitar players.

"We'll sit down and if Jake says, 'I've got this riff, check it out,' or Misha's like, 'Check out this riff!', and plays it. It's for the 'Marigold' [off 2016's 'Periphery III: Select Difficulty'] *plays the riff*

"The first time I've heard that, I was like, 'Oh god, this is gonna be a sick song!'

"But none of us said to each other, 'You know what would sound better? If we played it on the 8-string!' None of us ever do that because you start to lose the spontaneity and original sort of fire of the riff.

"The reasons that riff was crafted, that it just sort of sparked out of nowhere out of your head, it's an amalgamation of the tuning, the action on your guitar, your headspace...

"So once you start to swap out one of those variables, you could lose it. I can count on one hand the number of times - because we have done it - it'll either fail horribly, which happens more often than not, or it'll be successful.

"It happens sometimes, but not as much as you think. A lot of people think that our songs are on 7-strings, like all of them. Because they hear this note *drops the tuning of the sixth string down to A*

"You hear that note. So we have a tuning called drop A. *plays riff* They hear that. 'That's a 7-string! Damn I love those 7-strings.' It's not a seven string."

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    BlackRose93
    A guitarist tunes down to drop C or chugs a 7-string and suddenly thinks he is 1000 times more brutal. However, the hard truth is that you really didn't do as much as you think. 5,6,7 semitones aren't really going to make that much difference to the listener. The piano has a ton more notes both in the upper and in the bottom register, yet you don't see pianists transposing everything an octave, or two, lower just to sound more badass. I'm not saying you should absolutely stick to standard tuning. Do as you please! It just perplexes me how much guitarists are amazed by the concept of 'transposing down'
    Panasonic3
    Great analogy with the piano, I has never thought of it. (Get your head out of the box damnit!)
    ReplicantSix
    Yeah, but to be fair, a pianist isn't playing "chugging" rhythms generally. They play chords with the left hand (or counterpoint) and melody with the right. So because of the overtone series, the harmony will sound unstable if the left hand goes too far left.
    theman6
    Tuning lower is not always to "sound heavier", when I compose there are some times when I need lower notes in my range, depending on the part, lower tunings just ease that need so we can add more range into the music Not really comparable to the piano, because the piano already has a full range, you don't need to retune every string so you can play lower, every note is there However if I'm writing a song and all of a sudden I need an E flat that is just below the open E string, well I'll have to change the tuning entirely
    BlackRose93
    Yes sure. I addressed that in my first post. You are free to do whatever you want, if you feel it serves a purpose.  But I feel that downtuning shouldn't be as much of a focus as it is now. Youtube is bombarded with 'X song in drop Y tuning' videos that really serve no purpose at all. Also piano by no means has a 'full' range. It has more range than a guitar sure, but not full. There are notes both higher and lower that the human ear can hear that piano has no access to. But you don't see pianists downtuning their whole piano to reach said notes. Ok, I know that its easier to retune a guitar than a piano. And it's awesome to be able to work with the strengths of each instrument. But downtuning has become a one trick pony that most people use it as a recipe to be 'heavy', rather than as a conscious artistic choice.
    theman6
    It doesn't have a full range, you're right, but it does have enough range, unless you want to be too experimental (the ranges the piano doesn't have are either way too low or way too high), although I do get you, I also saw a lot of popular videos of "X song in Y tuning" that does not have any purpose, the thing is that people shouldn't bash downtuning entirely just because of a few morons
    jasonking737
    I agree. I admit, I keep my guitar downtuned (G# mainly), but it's a 6 string with thicker gauge strings (.10 to .60). And it's a Steinberger. So while it has that lower tuned sound, it's very high sounding with a lot of cut rather than that low, bassy sound most 7 strings have. I primarily use downtuning because it has a more interesting sonic range to my ears than standard or drop C, hell, you can get some marvelous clean passages with a low tuning that a standard tuning can't provide. Plus, I play mathcore, so I really love mixing those low notes and sick cleans with the time signature and tempo changes to spice it up some. Those who simply tune down to sound "heavy" give down tuning a bad rep, and it's really a shame, because there are some great things to be found there, and you can definitely do it without a 7 or 8 string.
    marminkamdak
    lol there is a difference between a piano and a distorted guitar. It does sound heavy with low tuning though not necessarily appealing.
    DeadHeart7
    The main purpose of down tuning really should be to make a singer more comfortable.
    HugoPan
    He's absolutely right. the other day I was learning some HIM stuff, and I came across a super popish song, with the accoustic and electric guitar together. turns out that the guitar was tuned in DROP C but it did not sound heavy at all - because the overall intent and arrangement of the song wasn't heavy.  Many melodic-death metal bands are heavy as fuck and they play in standard, if not one step higher! So I agree 100% with Mr. Whoever He Is Here. gotte check out Periphery some time.
    sombrero_mop
    I feel the same exact way. I play a lot of heavy as fuck metal, and I keep my electric guitars in Eb. However, I write a lot of softer acoustic songs yet I have my acoustic tuned down to C.  It's all about context and atmosphere; who said acoustic love songs can't be written 2 steps down?
    BloodDuster
    yeah he is completely correct its about the groove you play not having 420 strings tuned 1.5 billion steps down. Look an Iomi, 6 string (standard tuning iirc on most things?) and damn he's the heaviest of them all
    lukasz.konderskilk
    Well not quite. Iommi played in E standard on black sabbath and paranoid records. After that it was mostly D# or C# standard. But yeah he made everything heavy regardless of tuning.
    jocelyn.lee2305
    Also bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, arguably one of the most chaotic & heavy bands of recent times, play in standard on 6 strings
    FallenAsh
    Definitely, I was gonna mention DEP! Also Opeth, 95% of their material is standard tuning. Their metal sections are heavy as fuck, and they don't need to tune down. Best examples of that are Heir Apparent or Masters Apprentices I reckon. I suppose using standard tuning is one thing that helps them transition so seamlessly between metal and all the other styles they cover like folk, rock, blues, jazz, ambience etc in one song haha.
    GuitarHawk99
    Another like 40% of sounding heavy is good mixing and instrumentation. The parts have to be balanced between instruments to fill the whole frequency spectrum, and then whether in the studio or live, the mix has to be at least decent otherwise it's just mud, it won't sound heavy if everything is messy and loose. The other thing is every persons definition of "heavy" is completely different, so it's never going to be something that is quantifiable.
    Panasonic3
    I like how he added the bit about the lyrics. Reminded me of Pink Floyd at the end of Time: Every year is getting shorter Never seem to find the time Plans that either came to naught Or half a page of scribbled lines Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way ... Fucking brutal.
    FretboardToAsh
    So your song that has a low-A in it isn't a 7th string, but a downtuned or just a baritone-guitar... so that you can reach the same low-A. Which is an entirely different matter, alright man, if you say so.  More seriously, I'll agree that heavyness is not down to how low a note is. No matter the type of non-argument I find the rest of his replies to be, I still feel that many old metal bands have a much heavier feel than modern ones. I've had this discussion a few times with friends and colleagues, and generally we came to it being due to the possibilities/technology, that people are losing that 'feel' for it. Or just never gain it in the first place. This isn't a 'in my time rant', but take it for what you will. We compared it to modern-day's favorite, auto-tune. Many of us can name a fair few singers of old, many we still listen to. Where most of them these days tend to rely on technology to keep them within a supposed intended note. If you always use a tuner to tune your guitar, you'll never learn to tune your guitar by ear, it is the same with singing. How many singers of today do you know, that still have their fame for their voice and skill to move people with that? And how many have made a lasting career out of it? If Frank Sinatra were to use auto-tune, he'd no longer be Frank. Since he tends to crawl up to his intended note, which is integral to his style and auto-tune doesn't allow something like that.Tony Iommi's riffs would probably be completely incomprehensible in drop-A, and if you've even heard a recent Deep Purple show you'd know that heavyness is not a 'how low can you go'. It's touch, timing and gut. Not modern technology to perfect-tune and perfect-sync the entire band to one another. 
    sweenster
    If anyone has seen Slayer or Lamb of God live they are perfect examples of this.  Most lamb of god songs are drop d and slayer songs are mostly Eb...but I guarantee you will be hard pressed to find heavier live bands than them. 
    Metallichemical
    I have always believed this wholeheartedly! Black Sabbath, as an example, is far from one of the most brutal, crushing metal bands, however, the overall atmosphere makes the music so damn heavy! Of course the instruments are part of it.
    Kornholic
     "You hear that note. So we have a tuning called drop A. *plays riff* They hear that. 'That's a 7-string! Damn I love those 7-strings.' It's not a seven string." 
    You're using a tuning lower than the standard tuning for a 7-string. No wonder people are so easily mistaken.
    DamagingExcess
    Their drop A isn't actually drop A. It's drop C with the low C dropped to A so you get a cool octave effect with a power chord shape on the top two strings
    Kornholic
    A is still lower than B.
    DamagingExcess
    You missed my point. Their entire tuning isn't lower then a 7 just one string. I also think you're looking into it a little more then intended 
    Kornholic
    It is still lower than a standard tuned 7-string if it's tuned to Drop C but the 6th string is A. Standard 7-string tuning is B E A D G B E which is just the standard E tuning with an added string. So you are wrong.
    DreamTheaterFan
    Misha did a facebook stream a while back where he put different drum beats on the same riff, and the change was quite dramatic. Or if anyone has seen Jared Dines' "X song in major" then you can see how the guitar playing changes the song dramatically. Intent IS what's important! 
    link55588
    I agree 100% Might get some shit for this, but personally XYU by Smashing Pumpkins is one of the heaviest songs I've ever heard, pretty sure it's just a halfstep down too.
    tonello
    Lune is a great example of what Mark is talking about. It's not a heavy song because it just doesn't have that vibe. It's a love song and even if they were djenting the entire time, I'm not sure that they would make up for the fact that Spencer's singing to his girlfriend.