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Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It typically employs heavily distorted guitars, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes.

Building off the speed and complexity of thrash metal, death metal emerged during the mid 1980s. It was mainly inspired by thrash metal acts like Slayer, Kreator and Celtic Frost. Along with the band Death and its frontman Chuck Schuldiner (who is often referred to as "the father of death metal"), bands like Possessed and Morbid Angel are often considered pioneers of the genre. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal gained more media attention as popular record labels like Earache Records and Roadrunner Records began to sign death metal bands at a rapid rate. Since then, death metal has diversified, spawning a rich variety of subgenres.

Characteristics

Instrumentation

The setup most frequently used within the death metal genre is two guitarists, a bass player, a vocalist and a drummer almost universally using two bass drums or a double bass drum pedal. Although this is the standard setup, bands have been known to occasionally incorporate other instruments such as electronic keyboards.

The genre is often identified by fast, highly distorted and downtuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking. The percussion is usually fast and dynamic; blast beats, double bass and exceedingly fast drum patterns frequently add to the ferocity of the genre.

Death metal is known for its abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, as well as fast and complex guitar and drumwork. Death metal may include chromatic chord progressions and a varied song structure, rarely employing the standard verse-chorus arrangement. These compositions tend to emphasize an ongoing development of themes and motifs.

Vocals and lyrics

Death metal vocals are often guttural roars, grunts, snarls, and low gurgles colloquially called death grunts or death growls. The style is sometimes referred to as Cookie Monster vocals, tongue-in-cheek, because of the similarity with the popular Sesame Street character of the same name. Although often criticized, death growls serve the aesthetic purpose of matching death metal's violent or bleak lyrical content.

Death metal's lyrical themes often invoke slasher and splatter movie violence, but may also extend to topics like Satanism, anti-religion, Occultism, mysticism, philosophy and social commentary. However, few death metal musicians actively practice occultism, mysticism, or Satanism. Most seem to use it metaphorically in their works. Although violence may be explored in various other genres as well, death metal elaborates on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape and necrophilia. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris commented this apparent glamorization of violence may be attributed to a "fascination" with the human body that all people share to some degree, a fascination which mixes desire and disgust. Heavy metal author Gavin Baddeley also stated there does seem to be a connection between "how acquainted one is with their own mortality" and "how much they crave images of death and violence" via the media. Additionally, contributing artists to the genre often defend death metal as little more than an extreme form of art and entertainment, similar to horror films in the motion picture industry. This rationalization has brought such musicians under fire from activists internationally, who claim that this is often lost on a large number of adolescents, who are left with the glamorization of such violence without social context or awareness of why such imagery is stimulating.

According to Alex Webster, bassist of Cannibal Corpse, "The gory lyrics are probably not, as much as people say, [what's keeping us] from being mainstream. Like, 'Death metal would never go into the mainstream because the lyrics are too gory?' I think it's really the music, because violent entertainment is totally mainstream."

Origin of the term

There are several theories how the term "death metal" originated. One theory is the name originates from an early pioneer of the genre, Death. A Floridamarker journalist explained to his readers Death play their own kind of metal: "Death's Metal". Others contest Death is not the origin, but the harsh vocals and morbid lyrical content generally inspired the genre. Another possible origin is a fanzine called Death Metal, started by Thomas Fischer and Martin Ain of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. The name was later given to the 1984 compilation Death Metal released by Noise Records. The term might also have originated from other recordings. Possessed's 1984 demo is called Death Metal, and a song with the same name is featured on their 1985 debut album Seven Churches. A demo released by Death in 1983 is called Death by Metal.

Early history (before 1991)

Emergence

British heavy metal band Venom crystallized the elements of what later became known as thrash metal, death metal and black metal, with their 1981 album Welcome to Hell. Their dark, blistering sound, harsh vocals, and macabre, proudly Satanic imagery proved a major inspiration for extreme metal bands. Another highly influential band, Slayer, formed in 1981. Although the band was a thrash metal act, Slayer's music was more violent than their thrash contemporaries Metallica, Megadeth and Exodus. Their breakneck speed and instrumental prowess combined with lyrics about death, violence, war and Satanism won Slayer a rabid cult following. Slayer released their first album, Show No Mercy, in 1983. According to Allmusic, their 1986 album Reign in Blood "inspired the entire death metal genre" and had a big impact on the genre leaders.



Possessed, a band that formed in San Francisco during 1983, was influenced by early Slayer. Although Possessed's brand of metal resembled Slayer's fast and Satanic thrash metal style, they are often cited as the "first" death metal band. This is largely because of the grunted vocals which set the stage for death metal's breakaway from thrash metal. The 1984 demo Death Metal and 1985 album Seven Churches are regarded as their most influential material.

Not long after the dawn of Possessed, a second influential metal band was formed in Floridamarker: Death. Death, originally called Mantas, was formed during 1983 by Chuck Schuldiner, Kam Lee, and Rick Rozz. In 1984 they released their first demo entitled Death by Metal, followed by several more. The tapes circulated through the tape trader world, quickly establishing the band's name. With Death guitarist Schuldiner adopting vocal duties, the band made a major impact on the scene. Fast, dark minor-key riffs and fierce solos were complemented with fast drumming, creating a style that would catch on in tape trading circles. Subsequently, Schuldiner has been "widely recognized as the Father of Death Metal".

Along with Possessed and Death, other pioneers of death metal in the United States include Autopsy, Necrophagia, Master, Morbid Angel, Massacre, Atheist, Obituary and Cannibal Corpse.

An early death metal album, Season of the Dead, was released by Necrophagia in 1987. That same year saw the release of Death's Scream Bloody Gore, which some writers consider the genre's first "proper" release.

Growing popularity

By 1989, many bands had been signed by eager record labels wanting to cash in on the subgenre, including Florida's Obituary, Morbid Angel and Deicide. This collective of death metal bands hailing from Florida are often labeled as "Florida death metal". Death metal spread to Sweden in the mid 1980s, and flourished in the latter part of the decade, with pioneers such as Nihilist, Entombed, Carnage, Dismember and Unleashed. In the early 1990s, the rise of typically melodic "Gothenburg metal" was recognized, with bands such as Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates, and In Flames.

Following the original death metal innovators, new subgenres began by the end of the decade. British band Napalm Death became increasingly associated with death metal, in particular, on 1990's Harmony Corruption. This album displays aggressive and fairly technical guitar riffing, complex rhythmics, a sophisticated growling vocal delivery by Mark "Barney" Greenway, and thoughtful lyrics, leading to the creation of the "deathgrind" subgenre. Other bands contributing significantly to this early movement include Britain's Bolt Thrower and Carcass, and New York's Suffocation.

To close the circle, Death released Human in 1991, an example of modern death metal. Death's founder Schuldiner helped push the boundaries of uncompromising speed and technical virtuosity, mixing technical and intricate rhythm guitar work with complex arrangements and emotive guitar solos. Other examples are Carcass's Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious, Suffocation's Effigy of the Forgotten and Entombed's Clandestine from 1991. At this point, all the above characteristics are present: abrupt tempo and count changes, on occasion extremely fast drumming, morbid lyrics and growling vocal delivery.

Earache Records, Relativity Records and Roadrunner Records became the genre's most important labels, with Earache releasing albums by Carcass, Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, and Entombed, and Roadrunner releasing albums by Obituary, and Pestilence. Although these labels had not been death metal labels, initially, they became the genre's flagship labels in the beginning of the 1990s. In addition to these, other labels formed as well, such as Nuclear Blast, Century Media Records, and Peaceville. Many of these labels would go on to achieve successes in other genres of metal throughout the 1990s.

In September 1990, Death's manager Eric Greif held one of the first North American death metal festivals, Day of Death, in Milwaukee suburb Waukesha, Wisconsin, and featured 26 bands including Autopsy, Hellwitch, Obliveon, Revenant, Viogression, Immolation, Atheist, and Cynic.

Later history (1991 onward)

Death metal's popularity achieved its peak between the 1992–93 era, with some bands such as Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary enjoying mild commercial successes. However, the genre as a whole never broke in to the mainstream. The genre's mounting popularity may have been partly responsible for a strong rivalry between Norwegian black metal and Swedish death metal scenes. Fenriz of Darkthrone has noted that Norwegian black metal musicians were "fed up with the whole death metal scene" at the time. Death metal diversified in the 1990s, spawning a rich variety of subgenres.

Subgenres

It should be noted that cited examples are not necessarily exclusive to one particular style. Many bands can easily be placed in two or more of the following categories, and a band's specific categorization is often a source of contention due to personal opinion and interpretation.

  • Melodic death metal: Scandinavian death metal could be considered the forerunner of "melodic death metal". Melodic death metal, sometimes referred to as "melodeath", is heavy metal music mixed with some death metal elements, such as growled vocals and the liberal use of blastbeats. Songs are typically based around Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and melodies with typically higher-pitched growls, as opposed to traditional death metal's brutal riffs and much lower death grunts. Carcass is sometimes credited with releasing the first melodic death metal album with 1993's Heartwork, although Swedish bands In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and At the Gates are usually mentioned as the main pioneers of the genre and of the Gothenburg metal sound.


  • Technical death metal: Technical death metal and progressive death metal are related terms that refer to bands distinguished by the complexity of their music. Common traits are dynamic song structures, uncommon time signatures, atypical rhythms and unusual harmonies and melodies. Bands described as technical death metal or progressive death metal usually fuse common death metal aesthetics with elements of progressive rock, jazz or classical music. While the term technical death metal is sometimes used to describe bands that focus on speed and extremity as well as complexity, the line between progressive and technical death metal is thin. "Tech death" and "prog death", for short, are terms commonly applied to such bands as Cryptopsy, Edge of Sanity, Opeth, Origin and Sadist. Cynic, Atheist, Pestilence and Gorguts are examples of bands noted for creating jazz-influenced death metal. Necrophagist and Spawn of Possession are known for a classical music influenced death metal style. Death metal pioneers Death also refined their style in a more progressive direction in their final years.












Other fusions and subgenres

There are other heavy metal music subgenres that have come from fusions between death metal and other non-metal genres, such as the fusion of death metal and jazz. Atheist and Cynic are two examples. The former of went as far as to include jazz-style drum solos on albums, and the latter incorporated elements of jazz fusion. Nile have also incorporated Egyptian music and Middle Eastern themes into their work, while Alchemist have incorporated psychedelia along with Aboriginal music. Some groups, such as Nightfall and Eternal Tears of Sorrow, have incorporated keyboards and symphonic elements, creating a fusion of symphonic metal and death metal, sometimes referred to as symphonic death metal.

See also



References

Literature




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