Death metal

From Academic Kids


Death metal is a type of heavy metal music with thrash metal influences which emerged in the United States (especially Florida and California), Europe (especially the United Kingdom and Sweden) and Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Death metal has, like most subgenres of heavy metal, proven notoriously difficult to define. Some fans and musicians have a firm concept of the genre, its categories and subcategories. Others consider such categorisation limiting or useless. There is often crossover from one metal genre to another, and the influence of non-metal genres is not uncommon.

Death metal is usually identified by extreme brutality, intensity and speed. "Blast beats" are frequently used to add to the intensity of the music. The vocals - death grunts, (guttural roars) or "growls", as they are often called, are rough and often incomprehensible (sometimes derisively called "Cookie Monster vocals" by those who dislike this vocal style). Similarly, those not familiar with the genre sometimes confuse it with "death rock", which is an entirely different musical classification altogether.

Death metal's subject matter usually deals with the darker side of society that most other musical styles avoid writing about although some bands such as Dying Fetus write mostly political lyrics. The focus on mortality along with the extreme nature of the music likely inspired the naming of this genre as "death" metal. Other bands still take their lyrical inspiration from horror movies, e.g., early Death, Cannibal Corpse, Mortician. Death metal is known for very abrupt tempo and count/time signature changes, and extremely fast and complex guitar and double bass drumwork. Most bands of this genre use downtuned and distorted guitars (usually utilising two), which play both rhythm and lead guitar parts, a downtuned, sometimes distorted bass guitar, a double bass drum set, and a vocalist who uses the death grunt vocal style. Some bands add incidental synthesizers or other instruments for effects. Of all the Metal genres Death metal is the most physically demanding of its musicians.


Early history (up to 1991)

Cover of Scream Bloody Gore by
Cover of Scream Bloody Gore by Death

Death metal is clearly an outgrowth of heavy metal, but the full story is complex and interesting, and is the subject of some debate among fans and musicians.

Although growling vocals are usually the prime factor in identifying death metal, this by itself would also include albums such as Welcome to Hell from 1981 by British metal group Venom—an important early Heavy Metal group—where the vocals may be mostly "growling", but the music is not what is generally meant by "death metal" today.

Instead, many fans place the birth of death metal around 1985, due to U.S. bands such as Florida's Death and California's Possessed. This music, although fitting the above description of "extreme brutality and speed" for its time, did not create anything significantly new compared to their immediate predecessors, and one would be hard pressed to identify strong and specific musical differences between, say Death's debut album from 1987 and same-period work by thrash metal bands such as the Brazilian Sepultura or even the aforementioned Venom, except perhaps slightly "growlier" vocals.

Another important impact on the death metal scene was made by Slayer, by their releases of Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits in the year 1983 and 1985 respectively. Despite the lack of growled vocals, the song structures are closer to death metal than to thrash metal. In fact, most Slayer albums, especially 1986s Reign in Blood, are still favourites of many death metal fans.

To their credit, early "death metal" bands such as Death did push the format forward, something that would ultimately pay off in a new form of music that was substantially different from their closest forefather, thrash metal.

Other death metal historians maintain that the 1985 brand of "death metal" is more aptly summarised by the oft-used moniker "post-thrash" and that the band Death receives inflated credit partly because of its name. Under this paradigm, the modern concept of "death metal"—the point when it clearly decouples from the origins in heavy metal and thrash metal—can be set to 1989 or 1990, when the above-mentioned band Death and others had started to mature, and another crucial source of input had been merged into the brutal stew of riffing and growling. This input was hardcore punk.

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Cover of Dawn of Possession by Immolation

Just as in the original creation of NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) by Iron Maiden and other bands was sparked by the youthful energy of punk rock in the late 1970s, so did cross-fertilisation between metal and punk once more create something new in the late 1980s. The chaotic and often confusing development that took place around this time is well illustrated by the band Napalm Death, often characterised as a "grindcore" band (see below). This band acknowledges heavy influence in its early days from early demos by the band Death (such as "Infernal Death") and Massacre, and was simultaneously always part of the hardcore punk scene. However, Napalm Death themselves changed drastically around or before 1990, leaving grindcore (and most of the band members) behind, and on 1990's Harmony Corruption they can be heard playing something one might call "death metal" by the above characterisation. In fact, the project band Terrorizer's album, World Downfall (1989), is clear signs that some merging of hardcore punk and thrash metal is going on, with members from Florida's Morbid Angel and the new line-up of Napalm Death co-composing.

Many similar works rapidly appeared hot on the heels of Harmony Corruption: Britain's Bolt Thrower, Britain's Carcass, Sweden's Entombed, New York's Suffocation, and many others, and this development into a more well-executed, clearly distinct brand of metal was cemented when the band Death themselves followed the trend they had participated in starting, the technical album Human from 1991. Another fine example of this type of death metal is Morbid Angel's Blessed Are The Sick from 1991. At this point, all the above characteristics are clearly present: abrupt tempo and count changes, occasionally extremely fast drumwork, morbid lyrics and growling delivery.

Whichever way one prefers to view the history of death metal, confusing the story is the ubiquitous mixing of terms, even among artists themselves; Bill Steer in the early line-up of Napalm Death once said: "Death metal died in 1990, and everyone in the '90s who claims they're playing death metal is lying or a loser."

Later developments (1990s onwards)

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Colony by In Flames, a melodic death metal band.

During the 1990s, death metal grew in many directions, spawning a rich variety of subgenres, including the following:

  • Melodic death metal, where harmonies and melodies are much more present in the guitarwork. Although more melodic, it can sound more raw than the more precise sounding American variety. This subgenre is mostly associated with Sweden, especially in Gothenburg, as well as Norway and Finland (see Scandinavian death metal). The genre finds its best representation in At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Arch Enemy and Dismembered. The Iron-Maiden-esque techniques employed by these "Gothenburg" bands formed a riff-lexicon frequently used by many Hardcore bands that have risen in popularity since 2001. Because of this style's origin, these bands are (often mockingly) called Gothencore (See: metalcore).
  • Florida Death Metal, which includes some of the most notable bands. They are more rigid and percussive than the Swedish variant, more precise, refined and traditional compared to Deathgrind, yet more direct and brutal than the Technical variety. Bands include Deicde, Monstrosity, Obituary, Death (some albums are technical as well).
  • Technical death metal or Progressive Death Metal, a narrow, but influential subgenre where musical complexity and skill is the main focus. It is represented by bands like Gorguts, Necrophagist, Spawn Of Possession, Cynic, Atheist, Theory in Practice, Cryptopsy, Nile, to some degree Morbid Angel, and eventually, Death.
  • Brutal Death Metal, or Deathgrind, developed by combining certain aspects of the song structures of grindcore with death metal. Brutal Death Metal is associated with bands like Pyaemia, Brodequin, and Deeds of Flesh. One of the most influential bands is of this genre is early Carcass. They have evolved so not all their albums fit this genre. Exhumed and Impaled are both influenced by Carcass. They feature gory medical lyrics.
  • New York Death Metal, which is percussive, explosive with influences from New York Hard Core. It features a lot of palm-muted riffs and guttural deep vocals. Bands included in this genre include Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Pyrexia. There are other fine bands from New York but they do not exactly fit this description (Immolation, Incantation,etc.)
  • Doom death, which is a slowed down, melancholic subgenre, inspired by classic Doom metal. It was created by the likes of Disembowelment, My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost.
  • Slam Death Metal, characterised by frequent Hardcore-like breakdowns and ultra low grunting vocals. Devourment is widely recognised with inventing this style, though it is often conflated (and rightly so, in some cases) with tough-guy metalcore.
  • Blackened death, which is death metal mixed with black metal stylistic influences, notable in the vocals and riffing style. Dissection is a prime example of this genre, as is Emperor on their IX AEquilibrium album.
  • Death Thrash (also called Deathrash), which is Thrash with elements of death metal including speed, guitar picking techniques and vocals. In the earliest incarnation this style was the progression from Thrash metal to death metal. Some bands are Benediction, Cancer, Konkhra and Criminal. Some Sepultura albums could also be classified this way.

Grindcore is considered by some to be an even more extreme variant of death metal. However, many fans of grindcore and music historians would place it in a genre by itself, since the genre historically developed in parellel to death metal (both developed in the 1980s, death metal from thrash metal and grindcore from hardcore punk), each influencing the development of the other, but with early grindcore having a much more obvious hardcore punk and peace punk influence.

There are also other heavy metal subgenres that have come from fusions between death metal and other non-metal genres. Such as the fusion of death metal and Jazz played by Pestilence on their Spheres album.

Key artists

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Cover of Clandestine by Entombed

The crucial death metal bands include Autopsy, Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Cryptopsy, Death, Deicide, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Nile, Obituary, Opeth, Possessed, Suffocation.

See also

External links

es:Death Metal fr:Death metal he:דת' מטאל nl:Death metal ja:デスメタル pl:Death metal pt:Death metal ru:Дэт-Метал fi:Death metal

sv:Death metal


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