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Death metal

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Death metal

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Death metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal that evolved out of thrash metal during the early 1980s. Commonly recognized characteristics include lyrics praising death, chromatic progressions and a narrative or "story telling" song structure such that there is not a verse-chorus cycle as much as an ongoing development of themes and motifs. Aesthetically, it is usually identified by violent rhythm guitar, fast percussion and dynamic intensity. "Blast beats" are frequently used to add to the ferocity of the modern music. The vocals are commonly low gurgles named growl, death growl, or death grunt. This kind of vocalising is distorted by use of the throat, unlike traditional singing technique which discourages it. Music journalist Chad Bowar notes that, due to the similarity of the vocals to "unintelligible yelling", the style is sometimes described as "Cookie monster vocals"[1].

Death metal's subject matter usually addresses more nihilistic themes than any other genre (except maybe black metal), usually using metaphors of a gruesome nature to represent a larger concept. The focus on mortality along with the extreme nature of the music (as well as the name of Death, one of the genre's pioneers) likely inspired the naming of this genre as "death" metal.

Death metal is commonly known for abrupt tempo and count/time signature changes, and extremely fast and complex guitar and drumwork, although this is not always the case. Bands of this genre frequently utilize downtuned and distorted guitars, a downtuned, sometimes distorted bass guitar, a drum set (almost universally using two bass drums). Although this is the standard setup, bands have been known to incorporate other instruments such as keyboards. Death metal is very physically demanding of its musicians, especially in its more "technical" forms.

There is some dispute about the origin of the name. Often cited as inventors are Americans Possessed who recorded a song titled "Death Metal" in 1985. Also in 1985, the Brits of Onslaught also recorded a song of the same name. Often cited as the origin of the name is the band Death, because of their band name, which was established in 1984.


Early history (up to 1991)

Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal. Growling vocals are the primary identifier for death metal for the newer generation. But this by itself also includes works such as Welcome to Hell from 1981 by British metal group Venom where the vocals may be mostly "growling", but the music is not what is generally meant by "death metal" today. Venom never labelled what they did, but their album Black Metal became the basis for labelling music with 'Satanic' lyrics,and growling vocals as "black metal".

Genres are not usually identified solely by aesthetic form, and black or death metal labels are not easy to apply to some bands. One example of this is the American band Slayer, a pioneering thrash metal band. This genre (one that predates death metal), is also characterized by complex rhythmics and heavy guitar riffing. Slayer is not usually classified as a death metal band, and have never labelled themselves as such. Even so, with what is considered the thrash-metal milestone Reign in Blood from 1986, and subsequent works, they certainly influenced many of the creators of death metal, just like Venom did.

There is no shortage of bands that can be said to have influenced death metal. So, when did death metal emerge as a genre of its own? The actual sequence of events is fairly well documented and agreed upon (see external links below), but the question "Who created death metal and when?" is, of course, a matter of defining precisely what one calls death metal. One useful way to classify movements would be to speak of "early death metal" and "modern death metal", as will be outlined below, keeping in mind that some observers do not consider the "early" form to be death metal at all.

Around 1983, aggressive U.S. bands such as Florida's Death, California's Possessed, and Chicago's Master began to form. If one would call this diffuse genre "early death metal", the first recorded examples of this would be Possessed's album Seven Churches from 1985 and early demotapes by Death, followed by Death's album Scream Bloody Gore from 1987. To their credit, these "early death metal" bands 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.

However, other death metal historians maintain that the 1985 brand of "early death metal" is more aptly summarised by the moniker "post-thrash" and that the band Death receives inflated credit partly because of its name. In particular, the music flora around 1985, 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.

The alternative standpoint is that 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. 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 British band Napalm Death, often characterised as a "grindcore" band (see below). This band 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. Concise proof of this merger of thrash metal and hardcore punk is the project band Terrorizer's album, World Downfall (1989), where members from Napalm Death and the American band Morbid Angel, part of the "early death metal " scene, compose together. Few observers would disagree that many bands, including the early US death metal bands but now also bands from many other scenes and other countries, drove a major shift in musical emphasis around 1990-1991.

In particular, on 1990's Harmony Corruption, Napalm Death can be heard playing something most fans would call death metal today, i.e. "modern death metal" by the above characterization. This album clearly displays aggressive and fairly technical guitar riffing, complex rhythmics, a sophisticated growling vocal delivery by Mark "Barney" Greenway, and thoughtful lyrics. Other bands contributing significantly to this early movement include Britain's Bolt Thrower and Carcass, Sweden's Entombed, New York's Suffocation, and Florida's Morbid Angel.

To close the circle, the band Death put out the album Human in 1991, certainly an example of modern death metal. The band Death's founder Chuck Schuldiner helped push the boundaries of uncompromising speed and technical virtuosity, mixing in highly technical and intricate rhythm guitar work with complex arrangements and emotive guitar solos. Other examples of this are Carcass's Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious from 1991, Suffocation's debut Human Waste from the same year and Entombed's Clandestine from 1992. At this point, all the above characteristics are clearly present: abrupt tempo and count changes, on occasion extremely fast drumming, morbid lyrics and growling delivery.

Later history (1991-)

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, and Arch Enemy. The Iron Maiden-esque techniques employed by these "Gothenburg" bands formed a riff-lexicon frequently used by many metalcore bands that have risen in popularity since 2001. Because of this style's origin, these bands are (often mockingly) called Gothencore (See: metalcore). Many metal fans consider this genre to be separate from true death metal.
  • Scandinavian death metal, which could be called the forerunner of Melodic death metal with bands like Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed and the before mentioned At the Gates. Entombed (ex-Nihilist) was the band, which started to combine punk and death/thrash riffs and set a trademark "Sunlight studios" guitar sound - formed by linking together two distortion boxes to create a raw mechanical, electric buzz, which a lot of bands of this genre later tried to reproduce. This sound was nevertheless inspired by British grindcore band Unseen Terror on their debut album Human Error.
  • 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, yet more direct and brutal than the Technical variety. Bands include Deicide, Malevolent Creation, Monstrosity, Obituary, Brutality and Death (some albums are technical as well).
  • Technical death metal, a narrow, but influential subgenre where musical complexity and skill is the main focus. It is represented by bands like Gorguts, Necrophagist, Cynic, Atheist, Pestilence, Cryptopsy, Nile, and Death.
  • Brutal death metal, developed by combining certain aspects of the song structures of goregrind with death metal. Brutal Death Metal is associated with bands like Disgorge, Devourment, Vomit Remnants, Wormed. One main characteristic of Brutal Death is the vocal style, often called "Cookie Monster" vocals, or "bullfrog" vocals, or most commonly known "Guttural" vocals. The Lyrics are mostly gore related, sung in a slow and choppy manner, and usually following the guitar riffs. Secondly, the guitar riffs are usually chunky grooves or hyper fast, down-tuned, with pinch harmonics, with high gain outputs. Drumming is usually all over the place, from slow churning chunk, to blasting speed. Suffocation is probably one of the main influences for this style.
  • Death/Doom, or early Gothic Metal which is a slowed down, melancholic subgenre, inspired by classic doom metal. It was created by the likes of Asphyx, Disembowelment, My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost.
  • Slam death metal, characterised by frequent Hardcore-like breakdowns and low grunting vocals. Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus are slam death metal bands. "proto-Deathcore"
  • Blackened death metal, 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 Equilibrium album, and Zyklon (featuring former members of Emperor).
  • 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, Epidemic, Cancer, Konkhra and Criminal. Some Sepultura and the first two Sinister albums could also be classified in this way. An early "Hardcore-Metal" style.
  • Vedic metal, based on Indian or Hindu themes, with elements of death metal, black metal, thrash and classical Indian music. The term was coined by the band Rudra, and has gone on to influence regional Indian death metal acts.
  • Death/Grind, This death metal's subgenre is a mixing of styles Brutal death metal and Grindcore. British death metal band Bolt Thrower created this genre. Death/Grind bands: Aborted, Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse, Decapitated, Dying Fetus, Hate Eternal

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 parallel 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. Some early grind bands: Napalm Death, Electro Hippies, Fear Of God and Extreme Noise Terror. Grindcore eventually increased in speed and harshness, with many bands incorporating death metal into their sound, such as Brutal Truth, Narcosis, Pigsty, and Pig Destroyer.

There are also other heavy metal sub-genres 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, or the work of Florida bands Atheist and Cynic, the former of which sometimes went as far as to include jazz-style drum solos on albums, and the latter of which incorporated notable influences from fusion. Nile have also incorporated Egyptian music and Middle Eastern themes into their style.

Key artists

Key death metal bands include Atheist, Autopsy, Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Dismember, Death, Deicide, Entombed, Immolation, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Nile, Obituary, Possessed, and Suffocation.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Cookie Monster Vocals. URL accessed on January 21, 2006.. See further examples of this usage at The cookie monster vocal explained. rocknerd. URL accessed on January 21, 2006. and The categorization of death metal. URL accessed on January 21, 2006..
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