Djent Genre Study


Jul 6, 2014
Cardiff, UK
Hey guys, just wanted to share a piece of work I did last year as part of my Masters. It's a case study that looks into whether Djent is a valid genre.

I figured some of you guys may find this an interesting read, would be good to spark a discussion!

What is Djent?:
For the past decade or so, a new sub-genre of heavy metal has become more and more prominent. It has become known as “Djent”, a term coined by Meshuggah's guitarist Frederik Thordendal. Originally an onomatopoeic word used to describe a heavily distorted, palm muted chord, it has since become a word used to describe an entire sub-genre of metal. Perhaps the one person who can be credited with Djent becoming it's own genre is Periphery guitarist and solo musician Misha “Bulb” Mansoor. “I used to post on the Meshuggah forum, and that's where I picked up on the word. People were describing guitar tone. It's just a palm mute that you pick really hard, and I really like the way it sounds. It sounds metallic – it's like: 'Djent! Djent! Djent! Djent! Djent!'” (Mansoor, 2010).

The heavily palm muted four-string power chord chugging sound that the term refers to however is only one characteristic of the bands within the genre. Another prominent sonic element of Djent is the ambient clean guitar sections, often played behind the syncopated riffs. Although Meshuggah and Sikth are credited as being the originators of the genre, neither of these bands were particularly known for having this element to their sound. Even so, with bands such as TesseracT, Periphery and Vildhjarta it has become as much a characteristic of the sub-genre as the Djent chord. In their review of Tesseract's first album 'One', Eduardo Rivadavia of describes Meshuggah's influence on the genre, “...whose highly distinctive style of technical extreme metal has gradually become pervasive enough for others to emulate without shame, or at least utilize it as a jumping-off point for their own musical experiments.” (Rivadavia, 2011)

Djent is characterised by frequent use of alternate tunings and extended-range guitars. Djent bands predominantly use 7-string guitars, with 8-string guitars seeing almost as much use. 6-string guitars are used far less frequently, with only bands such as Periphery, Veil of Maya and Sikth being known to use them, and these are always using alternate low tunings such as dropped C or B standard. American three-piece Animals as Leaders are notable for not featuring a bassist either live or in the studio, as both guitarists utilize the extended range of their 8-string guitars tuned to dropped E (EBEADGBE) to fill up the gap in the frequency spectrum usually occupied by the bass guitar. Djent bands are also known for their use of Fractal's Axe-FX units, both live and in the studio. Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb describes the Axe-FX unit as “...achieve[ing] literally every tone I want for our music, and then some. From all the tones on the new record, to everything we use live – it's all Axe-FX.” (Holcomb, 2012). These units eliminate the need for large amplifiers to be brought on tour, as the Axe-FX rack units can be plugged directly into the PA system at a gig. Tonally, the units are known for being able to accurately simulate amplifiers, speaker cabinets and effects pedals, allowing for absolute control over tone. Animals As Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi believes the Axe-FX “transcend the conventional guitar amp. I consider it another instrument, and indispensable.” (Abasi, 2012). A high number of Djent guitarists are also known for using Ibanez guitars, with guitarists such as Tosin Abasi, Jake Bowen, Marten Hagstrom and Fredrik Thorndendal having their own signature models. One reason for the use of Ibanez guitars is that Ibanez were the first manufacturer to mass-produce 7-string electric guitars in the early 1990s. In an interview in 2011, Fredrik Thorndendal of Meshuggah stated “For as long as I can remember I've wanted to have a seven-string guitar so that I'd be able to play those really low notes, and then Ibanez finally came out with one. I bought one almost right away. I've had it since 1991 and it's still my main guitar.” (Thorndendal, 2011) Ibanez was also the to mass-produce 8-string electric guitars. Although widely used in a variety of heavy metal sub-genres, the use of Axe-FX units and Ibanez guitars has very much become a characteristic of the Djent genre. Many Djent bands also entirely self-produce their own music, such as Periphery, Tesseract, Cloudkicker and Sikth. This ideology ties in with the use of the Axe-FX, and the desire for absolute control over the sound.

As a genre, Djent really began online. Earlier bands such as Sikth and Meshuggah, whilst credited with providing the roots for the sub-genre, were not considered to be 'djent' at the time. Sander Dieleman of states that “Djent is really an online phenomenon. The internet gives young artists a way to easily share their music, and it's very easy to produce professional-sounding music in your bedroom. If you want to play djent, all you need is a guitar, a computer, a guitar interface and understanding neighbours.” (Dieleman, 2011). Whilst not the first Djent band to form, Periphery can be credited with turning the onomatopoeic word from an adjective into it's own genre. “I just saw it as the name for a palm-muted chord, but now it has popped up as a genre. It's kind of surprising.” (Mansoor, 2011).

As the genre originated online, there is fittingly no apparent geographical correlation between Djent bands. Out of the list of the top 20 Djent bands from, eight of them are from the USA. This is not surprising, as more heavy metal bands have come from the USA than any other country, as well as the fact that the USA is far larger than most countries. Aside from these eight, there are five bands from the UK, two from Sweden, and one from the Netherlands, France, Canada and Australia. This geographical diversity helps to maintain the online aspect of the genre, as many of these bands are not necessarily popular enough to embark on worldwide tours, meaning that the internet is the primary method of engaging with their music. In keeping with the online roots, Djent also has a degree of self-proclaimed 'geekiness'. “I'd say that 95% of people who turn up to our shows are bedroom musicians or gear nerds like me. Other bands get groupies; we get guys who want to know what string gauges I use or what programmes I record with.” (Mansoor, 2011)

The Djent sub-genre is very much a young sub-genre when compared to others. The very first contributors to the genre were Meshuggah and Sikth, who formed in 1987 and 1999 respectively. Bands such as Textures and Born of Osiris who formed between 2001 and 2003 are also credited with providing influence to the genre, despite their earlier albums falling into the pre-existing sub-genres of progressive metal and deathcore. Chris Colgan of's review of Born of Osiris' 2011 album 'The Discovery' highlights that although the album came out at a time when Djent had become a more well-known sub-genre, Born of Osiris had been implementing characteristics that are now predominantly heard in Djent since 2003. “The muted riffing style inspired by Meshuggah and made popular by bands like Periphery and TesseracT has become a trend in the same way that deathcore skyrocketed in popularity five years ago, so it's easy to claim that Born of Osiris is simply changing styles to match the new fad. However, this is an inaccurate criticism since Born of Osiris has employed downtuned palm-muted riffs since the band's inception.” (Colgan, 2011).

2004 saw the formation of American bands After The Burial and Veil of Maya, both of which are also credited with giving major influence to the genre. Solo artist Paul Antonio Ortiz also released his first solo album under the name Chimp Spanner in 2004, which was predominantly a progressive metal album. Nonetheless, it also featured sounds and characteristics which would later become a core of the Djent sub-genre. It wasn't until Misha Mansoor formed Periphery in 2005 that Djent started to become it's own sub-genre, despite the fact that they did not release an album until two years later. Since 2005, other popular Djent bands such as Monuments, Tesseract, Animals As Leaders and The Contortionist began to form, helping to solidify Djent as a genre. Fig 1 below shows the number of releases (including live albums and EPs) that have been released by's top 20 Djent bands. As can be seen, the only active band before 2000 was Meshuggah, with the first albums released by other bands in 2003.

*no chart sorry*

As Djent is such a new sub-genre, it is often met with criticism regarding it's validity. Chandler states that “it is difficult to make clearcut distinctions between one genre and another: genres overlap, and there are 'mixed genres” (Chandler 2000). This is arguably the case with Djent, which originated as an off-shoot of progressive metal. It also incorporates elements of metalcore, ambient rock and even electronic music. In order to gather data on people's opinions regarding genre classification, both in direct regard to Djent and also in a general sense, I created a survey on and shared it on Facebook and electric guitar forum I received 188 responses in total, however not all of these 188 people answered every question. I split the survey into three sections. The first was to work out how familiar people were with heavy metal music in general. The results showed that 40% considered themselves to be very familiar, and 34% were quite familiar. This meant that I could expect a total of 74% of responses to be at least reasonably informed. The second question in this section was to see how many people were aware of Djent as a genre, when compared to the other sub-genres of heavy metal. I listed every existing heavy metal sub-genre according to, regardless of my own views as to what constitutes a genre. People were asked to tick each genre that they were aware of, to a degree where they could name two or three bands within the genre. According to my survey, the most well known genres were death metal and black metal, each with a 72% response rate. Surprisingly, 48% of people were aware of what Djent was, which was considerably higher than I had expected.

Section two of the survey was intended to gather information regarding people's opinions on genre classification in general, and not just limited to heavy metal. I used a 5-point Likert scale and asked people to tick how strongly they agree or disagree with each statement. I deliberately used a 5-point system instead of a 4-point system, as with a 4-point system there is no neutral option. This would mean that people who have no idea would be forced to pick a side. I had assumed less people would have been aware of Djent, however with 48% knowing what Djent is, this meant that 52% of people would probably have no idea what to answer, so I felt it was important to allow for a neutral response. Incidentally, a very low percentage responses were neutral. In the first question, I found that whilst 35% of people agree that sub-genres are necessary to classify music, 31% also think that music would be more enjoyable if there was less of a focus on genre classification. 48% of people also responded that sub-genres make it easier to discover new music. These results may seem contradictory, however this could be interpreted as people tend to like that sub-genres exist, and find them very useful. Genres can be vital in engaging with the listener, as they “make possible the communication of content.” (Fowler, 1989, p215). However, it can be annoying if sub-genre labelling becomes the focus of the listening experience. Genres can also potentially interfere with the listeners' enjoyment of the music, as they can imply pre-conceived ideas of what to expect from the music. Although this could be considered a downside to genre classification, expectation is nonetheless a key element of the interaction between the music and the listener. McQuail writes that “The genre may be considered as a practical device for helping any mass medium to produce consistently and efficiently and to relate its production to the expectations of its customers” (McQuail 1987, p200), which describes one interpretation of the purpose of genres. This is supported by the response to another question, showing that an even number of people agree and disagree that they want to know what genre a band is before listening. I also found that 61% of people agree that genre boundaries and classifications can change over time, which potentially supports the argument that Djent should be considered it's own genre. Chandler supports these results, stating that “traditionally, genres tended to be regarded as fixed forms, but contemporary theory emphasizes that both their forms and functions are dynamic.” (Chandler 2000).

Section three was specifically related to Djent. The first question narrowed down exactly how familiar people were with the sub-genre, and found that 60% of people were either not very familiar, or not familiar at all. This unfortunately meant that only 40% of responses may be valid. The next question was a list of bands considered to be within the genre of Djent. The list was taken from the top 20 Djent bands from Unsurprisingly, with 84% of responses the most well known band on the list was Meshuggah, as they have been around the longest and are synonymous with the word 'Djent'. 74% were aware of Periphery, as they are probably the biggest Djent band today. 72% knew Animals As Leaders, another popular Djent band. All other bands had a response rate of 46% or less, meaning the top three were by far the most well known. The final question was another 5-point Likert scale. I made the mistake of maintaining a 5 point system for this question rather than a 4 point system, as if 60% don't really know what Djent is they will probably answer neutrally on every question. As this happened in four of the six responses, I will ignore the neutral responses. The first statement was a quote from Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe which he posted on Twitter: “THERE IS NO SUCH FUCKING THING AS 'DJENT'. ITS NOT A GENRE. I'm sorry, it's STUPID AS FUCK. Metal already WAY over classified. Look dude- all this BULLSHIT 'Deathcore' & 'Djentcore' & fucking 'Cantplayinreallifebutcanonacomputer-core' it's just a NAME.” (Blythe, 2011). 40% disagreed with him, and presumably they think that Djent should be considered a genre. However there may be a degree of bias here, as people may have changed their vote depending on their own personal opinion of Randy Blythe. The next statement was a quote from Animals As Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi. “I guess it's a legitimate genre because if you can isolate three, four, five qualities in a genre of music, and they are consistent in every artist who is playing in that genre, then I feel like you can call it a genre.” (Abasi, 2012). A total of 64% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, as although he is ignoring the social side of genre classification and only speaking musically, it would be very hard to try to dispute what he has said.

The next statements were written by myself in order to try and narrow down responses to answer my proposed question. The first of these was “As Djent has arguably progressed from it's initial state, it no longer makes sense to use the word Djent to describe the music.” The responses were very mixed, with 20% agreeing and 26% disagreeing. Notably, out of 156 responses to this question only 17 of them were strongly agree/disagree. This meant no one really had a strong view either way, meaning people probably either don't know or don't care. The next statement was intended to isolate the word 'Djent' from the sub-genre. “The meaning of the word Djent is irrelevant, the point of the sub-genre is to group together similar styles of music.” 68% agreed with this, meaning they do not think the name of the genre is anywhere near as relevant as the use of that name. The next statement was “Djent should be considered a genre with equal validity to genres such as death metal or thrash metal.” This was the key question of the survey, as it was the question I wanted to answer. 39% agreed that Djent should be considered a genre, whilst 11% disagreed. Presumably the people who disagreed believe that every band considered to be 'Djent' could be classified into a pre-existing sub-genre. The final question was in direct regard to the word 'Djent'. “Whilst the bands considered to be djent do share enough characteristics to be their own genre, using the word djent as a genre is silly. Another name would make more sense, such as modern progressive metal.” 31% agreed that the word 'Djent' does not make sense, however the genre that it is referring to is valid and should exist, albeit under a different name. 28% disagreed, and consider 'Djent' to be a perfectly valid name for the genre. These responses were interesting as they show that a large part of the argument against 'Djent' being a genre relate purely to the word itself rather than the musical characteristics of the bands.

My results show that the bands emerging as Djent bands do share enough musical characteristics to be regarded as part of a valid, albeit very young, sub-genre. However, the lack of a geographical or cultural 'scene' due to the emergence from and subsequent connection with the internet could potentially limit it's validity when compared to genres that focus heavily on the social and cultural aspect of the music. Black metal, for example, has a large cultural influence as well as a distinct image that accompanies the music. This is not the case with Djent. The genre will no doubt influence future bands who may develop the sound further. As Djent originated as an off-shoot of progressive metal, a genre that thrives on pushing boundaries and the limits of creativity, it is fitting that even in the past ten years Djent has noticeably progressed from it's initial state, and bands are already applying the Djent style in creative and interesting new ways. Although it is impossible to say whether Djent will remain as popular as it currently is in ten years time, it is certainly a perfectly valid genre now, and it would be foolish to disregard it entirely based on a personal dislike of the word used to describe it.