So I've been trying my hand at writing progressive riffs like opeths heritage album, no luck. I can't grasp what the theory is behind the playing. Can anyone help me? Songs to use as reference is slither, devils orchard, and lines in my hand. Can anyone offer their wisdom?
This question always seems to get asked - "What theory do I need to know to write etc. etc."
You don't need to know any theory at all to write that stuff. Mikael and Fredrik always say that they don't know any theory themselves (though I think they know more then they let on to believe). Many of these artists do not know anything about theory. Writing good music comes with patience. Keep writing ....ty riff after ....ty riff, and eventually you will come across something you like. When you keep doing this, it will become easier and easier to come up with cool ideas.
I guess if you really do want to learn theory I suggest you start out by learning basic chord construction, and the 7 modes (how they are constructed and how they relate to other chords). Learning this stuff will not however, necessarily make you a better composer.
Theory is just putting words and concepts to what a person can already do naturally. There's very little that theory allows for musically that years of practice and intimacy with your instrument won't also allow for. What I'm trying to say is, if you keep playing and keep writing you'll figure it all out "naturally". I suppose intuitively is a better word. Some people use theory, some just wing it and write whatever they can/want to/sounds good neither is better or worse and I doubt you could even tell the difference between someone who writes with theory vs without it. My favourite songwriter, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, knows no theory :P
I guess my question is more or less, what is consistently brought up in this album, motifs and progressions used throughout the album, something to break it down so I can more or less get a picture in my head. I know theory, to a basic degree.
In that case, just get a guitar pro file of the songs and analyse it. Learn to play it too, of course, but it's really not that hard to get a basic understanding of what an artist is doing when you look at the sheet music.
I did hear once in an interview with Mikael that (on the Watershed album, at least) they almost only used major chords (or chords with a major third in it), despite it all sounding 'minor'.
Chord progressions: the idea is that all phrases terminate in a cadence, and that in most Western music, that cadence is going to be harmonic (involving chords). In most cases, the cadential pattern is V-I (or something involving substitutions of the V chord). A progression basically consists of any old nonsense, and is ended by V-I. You'll find a lot of sequences that don't follow that pattern, and don't seem to have the same functional feel. I call those "successions" rather than "progressions" because I prefer to reserve the latter term for functional harmony.
Form: this is a large area that begins with how a phrase is structured, how one section of music contrasts the next, and then observes the development of previous ideas in its more advanced stages. The main thing about form is that you have to know where sections start and stop.
Opeth - The Devil's Orchard
0:00 - Introduction
0:33 - A
2:32 - Transition
4:13 - B
4:38 - Transition
4:50 - C
5:31 - D
6:14 - Coda
Notice that there's no repetition in this one. When the form looks like A B C D E F G.... without ever going back to a previous section, it is said to be through-composed (or durchkomponiert, if you want to sound evil). Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is the same sort of form.
Let's take a look at another.
Opeth - Slither
0:00 - Introduction
0:33 - A
1:05 - B
1:45 - C
2:14 - B'
2:30 - B''
2:51 - Coda
Notice that this song has a repeating B element (the prime and double prime markings indicate that something is different in each repetition). There is no real name for this form, though one might compare it to song form (ABABCB, but without the first AB and with another B on the end). Naming forms isn't that important, however: you just need to recognize that there is repetition going on. The fact that there are three sections of B in this song indicates that B is probably important in terms of structure. In music that is more acutely aware of repetition, you'll find reference to previous motives in a subtle or not-so-subtle process called development. One rarely finds development in metal, although it happens every now and then.
Anthrax - Belly of the Beast
Compare what's going on at these time marks:
2:30 - same stuff
3:08 - variation on melody
3:25 - rhythmic development, triplets, hemiola
Nothing too crazy, but there's a bit of expanded self-reference there.
Here's a really quick harmonic analysis that I put together for The Devil's Orchard:
0:00 - E phrygian
0:33 - E phrygian dominant (Has kind of a lydian sound because they hang around on the F, but the tonic is definitely E.)
0:58 - B°7/F E (v°4,3 I, in terms of harmonic progression.)
3:45 - G# double harmonic major
4:13 - A double harmonic major/double harmonic minor (mode mixture)
4:38 - C# minor
4:50 - F# minor