Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and down tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals and screams, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick or blast beat techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes and chromatic chord progressions. The lyrical themes of death metal may invoke slasher film-stylized violence, Satanism, religion, occultism, Lovecraftian horror, nature, mysticism, philosophy, science fiction, and politics, and they may describe extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism, and necrophilia.
Building from the musical structure of thrash metal and early black metal, death metal emerged during the mid-1980s. Bands such as Venom, Slayer, Celtic Frost and Kreator, were important influences on the genre's creation. Possessed and Death, along with bands such as Obituary, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, 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 genre niche record labels like Combat, Earache, and Roadrunner, began to sign death metal bands at a rapid rate.
Since then, death metal has diversified, spawning a variety of subgenres. Melodic death metal is traditional heavy metal mixed with some death metal elements. Technical death metal is a complex style, with uncommon time signatures, atypical rhythms and unusual harmonies and melodies. Death-doom combines the slow tempos and melancholic atmosphere of doom metal with the deep growling vocals and double-kick drumming of death metal. Goregrind and deathgrind mix the intensity, speed, and brevity of grindcore with the complexity of death metal. Deathcore adds metalcore traits into death metal. Death 'n' roll combines death metal's growled vocals and highly distorted detuned guitar riffs along with elements of 1970s hard rock and heavy metal.
The setup most frequently used within the death metal genre is two guitarists, a bass player, a vocalist and a drummer often using "hyper double-bass blast beats". 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 down tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking. The percussion is usually aggressive and powerful.
Death metal is known for its growled vocals and for abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes. Death metal may include chromatic chord progressions and a varied song structure. In some circumstances, the style will incorporate melodic riffs and harmonies for effect. This incorporation of melody and harmonious playing was even further used in the creation of melodic death metal. These compositions tend to emphasize an ongoing development of themes and motifs.
Vocals and lyrics
Death metal vocals are referred to as death growls; hoarse roars/snarls. Death growling is mistakenly thought to be a form of screaming using the lowest vocal register known as vocal fry, however vocal fry is actually a form of overtone screaming, and while growling can be performed this way by experienced vocalists who use the fry screaming technique, "true" death growling is in fact created by an altogether different technique. The three major methods of harsh vocalization used in the genre are often mistaken for each other, encompassing vocal fry screaming, false chord screaming, and "true" death growls. Growling is sometimes also referred to as Cookie Monster vocals, tongue-in-cheek, due to the vocal similarity to the voice of the popular Sesame Street character of the same name. Although often criticized, death growls serve the aesthetic purpose of matching death metal's aggressive lyrical content. High-pitched screaming is occasionally utilized in death metal, being heard in songs by Death, Exhumed, Dying Fetus, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide.
The lyrical themes of death metal may invoke slasher film-stylized violence, but may also extend to topics like Satanism, religion, occultism, Lovecraftian horror, nature, mysticism, philosophy, science fiction, and politics. Although violence may be explored in various other genres as well, death metal may elaborate on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism, 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 explanation 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
The most popular theory of the subgenre's christening is Possessed's 1984 demo, Death Metal; the song from the eponymous demo would also be featured on the band's 1985 debut album, Seven Churches. Possessed vocalist/bassist Jeff Becerra said he coined the term in early 1983 for a high school English class assignment. 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.Template:Sfn The term might also have originated from other recordings, such as the demo released by Death in 1984, called Death by Metal.
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 traditional heavy metal mixed with some death metal elements. Unlike most other death metal, melodeath usually features screams instead of growls, slower tempos, much more melody and even clean vocals are heard at rare times. 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 Nile, Edge of Sanity, and Opeth. 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. The Polish band Decapitated gained recognition as one of Europe's primary modern technical death metal acts.
- Death-doom: Death-doom is a style that combines the slow tempos and melancholic atmosphere of doom metal with the deep growling vocals and double-kick drumming of death metal. The style emerged during the late 1980s and gained a certain amount of popularity during the 1990s. It was pioneered by bands such as Autopsy, Winter, Asphyx, Disembowelment, Paradise Lost, and My Dying Bride. This style spawned the more extreme subgenre of funeral doom metal, which is even slower and more atmospheric.
- Goregrind, deathgrind and pornogrind are styles that mix the intensity, speed, and brevity of grindcore with the complexity of death metal. They differ from death metal in that guitar solos are often a rarity, shrieked vocals are more prominent as the main vocal style (though death growls are still utilized and some deathgrind bands make more use of the latter vocal style), and songs are generally shorter in length, usually between one and three minutes that keep with grindcore's tradition of short time lengths in songs. All three of these styles differs from grindcore in the more technical approach and less evident hardcore punk influence and aesthetics. Some notable examples of deathgrind are Brujeria, Cattle Decapitation, Cephalic Carnage, Pig Destroyer, Circle of Dead Children, Rotten Sound, GUT and Cock and Ball Torture.
- Deathcore: With the rise in popularity of metalcore, some of its traits have been incorporated into death metal. Bands such as Suicide Silence, Carnifex and Salt the Wound combine death metal with a variance of metalcore influence. Characteristics of death metal, such as fast drumming (including blast beats), down-tuned guitars, tremolo picking and growled vocals, are combined with the screamed vocals, melodic riffs and breakdowns of metalcore. Decibel magazine stated that "one of Suffocation's trademarks, breakdowns, has spawned an entire metal subgenre: deathcore."
- Death 'n' roll: is a style that combines death metal's growled vocals and highly distorted detuned guitar riffs along with elements of 1970s hard rock and heavy metal. Notable examples include Entombed, Gorefest and Six Feet Under.
- Blackened death metal: is a style that combines death metal and black metal. Examples of blackened death metal bands are Belphegor, Behemoth, Akercocke, and Sacramentum.
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 went so far as to include jazz-style drum solos on albums, while 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, Septic Flesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, 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.
- List of death metal bands
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