I think I’ve used the phrase “elephants marching riff” on MetalSucks before, but during a hang sesh with Vince just before the holidays, I realized we don’t use it enough — especially considering how often we actually talk about elephants marching riffs. I don’t remember when Vince and I started using the phrase to describe these lumbering, brutally heavy riffs, but they are absolutely one of my favorite metallic tropes. I fucking LOVE a good elephants marching riff.
Like the taco riff, the elephants marching riff is a little hard to define verbally — but you know it the second you hear it. The easiest explanation is that it sounds MASSIVE and moves at the pace at which you suspect a giant beast of war — say, an elephant — might move. But it can’t just be slow — doom bands and, alas, deathcore bands write slow riffs all the time, but I’d rarely define them as “elephants marching riffs.”
For example, the section of Murder the Frail’s “Disturbia” which begins at roughly the 1:45 mark is leaden — but an elephants marching riff it is not:
No elephants marching riffs here!
The above-referenced riff doesn’t have just the right mix of groovy organicity (elephants are living creatures, after all) and sharp-edged rigidity (elephants don’t move with much grace) to qualify as a true elephants marching riff.
So what would I consider such a riff? Well, let’s look at some examples.
Time and time again, Machine Head write GREAT fucking elephants marching riffs. Robb Flynn has this shit down to a science. My favorite might still be the one that comes at the very end of “Davidian,” though (starts at 3:42):
There’s a great one at the end of Chimaira’s “Resurrection,” too. This makes me wanna trample something cute every time I hear it (starts at 4:09):
Of course, elephants marching riffs need not appear at the conclusion of the song. There’s a great one really close to the beginning of Killswitch Engage’s “Just Barely Breathing” (0:38ish):
And they need not be limited to one section of the song, either — I mean, Crowbar songs are often just one long elephants marching riff.
I’d say that The Acacia Strain’s “Beast” qualifies, too… I mean, close your eyes when you listen to this and you can just see the elephants marching in perfect time with the guitars:
Gojira also have a serious talent for writing these kinds of riffs… take “Yama’s Messengers,” for example:
I’m really just thinking about this now, because I’ve never really tried to articulate what makes a good elephants marching riff before — but I think it’s a mixture of pace, groove and gallop. If you sped up any of the above riffs, it might actually sound kind of like a creature running — but in the case of an elephants marching riff, the poor thing can’t really move any faster because it’s just so goddamn heavy.
What do you guys and girls think? Any favorite elephants marching riffs I should check out? I never can get enough of these things…