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This is a song I've been listening for about a year:

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A year ago, I didn't really know any music theory. I was baffled by it: why does it sound medieval? As I knew nothing, I didn't take it too far anyways. Fast forward a year, now I know a lot more, and I'm wondering why this sounds medieval.

Most medieval songs sound medieval because of the Dorian mode, 6/8 time, and the "medieval" instruments (which may not be so medieval after all...), is what I've read over time. Can someone chip in and check out why exactly this sounds so medieval? (By medieval I feel like something after 1400, so renaissance I guess?)

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    Doesn’t sound at all “medieval” to me. Perhaps it’s that video giving the medieval vibe? – Todd Wilcox Mar 23 at 22:52
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    I have to agree that it doesn't sound very medieval, but I could see why you might think that after being suggested by the video that it "should" sound medieval. Maybe it's more in line with "medieval" cliches from film scoring and video game music than actual medieval music? I'm hoping you get a good answer, even if most people's reaction will be "doesn't sound medieval to me." – Edward Mar 23 at 23:35
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    @ToddWilcox that's rather more renaissance. Even considering that Timotej Leginus is thinking of 15th-century music, Greensleeves is probably too late as it is from the 16th century. – phoog Mar 24 at 1:08
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    Actual medieval music is monophonic chant with perhaps a couple of instruments and a major fifth. – OrangeDog Mar 24 at 10:05
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    This doesn't sound medieval at all.... – theonlygusti Mar 24 at 11:17
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I have to say that I don't know much about heavy metal, but this sounds like what I imagine to be death metal. I did a bit of searching on that premise, and I found one site that classifies (I think) this band as "Epic/Medieval Black Metal."

I do know a bit about medieval music, although I'm no expert, and this sounds almost nothing like medieval music to me. There is the modality, as you note, but that's about it. I therefore suspect that the answer to your question ...

why does this exactly sound so medieval?

... is that you have formed your own cultural associations with this style of music and the medieval period. You're obviously not the only one with this association, but I haven't yet found much in the way of authentic medieval elements in this music. I'll try to give it a closer listen tomorrow and edit this answer accordingly.

I tried imagining some medieval music played by distorted electric guitars, and it didn't sound much like this. The melodic development is different, for example, and the pitches change more actively.

I would suggest having a listen to some recordings of actual medieval music. Ask yourself whether there are any common elements that you might cite to rebut my assertion that this music doesn't sound medieval (after all, I may just be overwhelmed by the electric guitars and thereby blinded to some aspects of the piece that I should be taking into account). If you can find these elements, but you are still not satisfied that you understand what it is about this music that seems medieval to you, ask another question, post a comment under this answer, or edit your question to clarify.

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  • Thanks for your answer! It may be a thing that I really maybe did associate it with medievality, since I was listening to other metal bands (but they didn't quite match this one's style), while playing a game set in medieval times, which was highly realistic, so I guess it could be that. But as I said, looking at it after a year, having a "trained" (semi-semi-semi...-trained, if you will) ear it doesn't sound too much medieval, like it did a year ago. – Timotej Leginus Mar 24 at 8:13
  • However, there's just one thing you could check out, and it's this: youtu.be/xDSM0UOA280 , check out the guitar solo at 18:20. It sounds really, really medieval to me. Could it be in the dorian mode, or the likes of that? – Timotej Leginus Mar 24 at 8:14
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    @TimotejLeginus That sounds less medieval to me than the first song. It's not Dorian, it's almost the four chords of pop. – Edward Mar 24 at 14:29
  • I certainly do have a twisted perspective of medievality, then :) The solo sounds really medieval to me. – Timotej Leginus Mar 24 at 15:50
  • @TimotejLeginus specific things you've probably associated with "medieval" games and their music that show up: chanting (Skyrim), bouncy melodies (like Zelda), complex melodies (90s CRPGs had these because D&D is more Renaissance than medieval), and a couple of places in that full album sounded like the "Mario progression" (also Zelda). Both also sounded a lot like power metal, which has always had strong ties to fantasy, implicitly medieval. It helps that these songs and power metal aren't quite "normal" metal, having chanting, bouncy melodies, and the Mario progression so it sets them apart. – gormadoc Mar 24 at 21:22
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I agree with the comments that this sounds vanishingly little like actual medieval music. However, it does have some elements that can be loosely associated with medieval music -- church music in particular -- combined with modern movie-soundtrack conceptions of how best to accompany medieval battle scenes.

  1. Unison vocals accompanied (in unison) by instrument(s). The vocals -- both the gutteral, distorted vocals of the verses and the more "melodic" vocals of the chorus -- are in unison and accompanied by solo guitar, also in unison. This is medieval-ish.
  2. Choral chant-like. Although the vocals do not resemble a medieval chant, they do sound chant-like in a broader sense. Repetitive, limited pitch range, and in the verses, resembling a chorus. It does give the music a sort of religious association, which also conjures medieval times.
  3. Accompaniment in open fifths. The use of fifths to accompany a melody is a hallmark of early medieval chant (see: organum). Because of this we tend to associate fifths-based accompaniments -- especially those like here that move in parallel with the melody -- with medieval music.
  4. Martial drumming. Much of the drumming has a march-like or heat-of-battle quality to it. Although the specific drumming in this piece has nothing to do with medieval music, it does have everything to do with movies about medieval battles. The drum track here could easily accompany a scene in which the barbarian hordes engage in brutal, bloody, slow motion battles.

That's my best sense of where the associations come from -- spurious or otherwise -- but ultimately I have to echo Phoog's thought: you've learned some music theory; now spend a whole bunch of time listening to (and reading about) medieval music. You could do worse than Hildegaard von Bingen and Josquin des Prez.

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  • "This has nothing to do with medieval music"; many modern performances of medieval music employ percussion, and there is iconographic evidence supporting the practice. Medieval music was written centuries before the modern orchestral score was invented, but that doesn't mean they weren't using percussion instruments. – phoog Mar 24 at 2:30
  • @phoog I don't mean the user of percussion has nothing to do with medieval music. I mean that the particular style of drumming doesn't have anything to do with medieval music. – Aaron Mar 24 at 2:34
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    @phoog Touché. Though I propose we can safely rule out the double-pedal kick drum. – Aaron Mar 24 at 3:18
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    @Aaron I can almost see the villager now; in a thatched roof cottage... frantically cobbling together a ramshackle device with help from the local blacksmith that would allow his foot to operate a beater on a pigskin drum - and that day the earliest incarnation of the double kick was born... – Charleh Mar 24 at 12:38
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    @Charleh One of the times I wish I was born in medieval times, then I realize that I'd probably die of sniffles. – Timotej Leginus Mar 24 at 15:52
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Metal draws very heavily from modes, especially those with ♭II like the Phrygian. Because distorted guitar sounds make multi-voice leading impossible (the sound is too muddy), things like traditional cadences are less important in metal. Tension has to come from melodic motion instead: lots of ♭II, tritones, movement by very unusual intervals, and so on.

The fact that power chords are perfect fifths, and ALWAYS move together, is also a nod to pre-Baroque music.

Many metal players are very keenly aware of this, as well as a connection to Baroque and Romantic instrumentalism. Because metal lead guitar is so virtuosic, very many have formal classical training (at least some). Eddie Van Halen gives a specific nod by dropping a little Bach riff in almost every solo he ever does.

Now, those aren't Medieval periods. But you'd have a hard time finding ANY musical period that isn't represented somewhere in metal music, and consciously so.

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    You have to look several centuries before the baroque before you find music that tolerated parallel perfect fifths. – phoog Mar 24 at 2:33
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    Parallel organum! holds up two fingers and thumb and bangs now-hairless head – Bennyboy1973 Mar 24 at 4:10
  • Multi-voice leading is perfectly possible with distorted guitars, you just can't put multiple voices on a single guitar. – leftaroundabout Mar 24 at 8:11
  • What exactly do you mean by "traditional cadences"? I know of the normal cadences (perfect, imperfect, deceptive..), but I also heard about one "medieval" cadence, called the double leading tone. In the post it said something about some voices moving (sharply, flatly or otherwise). Is that what that would be? – Timotej Leginus Mar 24 at 8:20
  • @Timotej Leginus Sorry for the imprecision. I meant V-I cadences, with both bass motion and a leading tone resolving to the tonic. "Power chords" in metal almost never have 3rds, so basically any kind of complex voice-leading is impossible. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 24 at 9:08

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