The Evolution of Music Part - XIV
Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It typically employs heavily distorted guitars, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, minor keys, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes.
Building from the musical structure of thrash metal and early black metal, death metal emerged during the mid 1980s. It was mainly inspired by thrash metal and early black metal acts like Slayer, Kreator, Celtic Frost, and Venom. Along with the
band Death and its frontman Chuck Schuldiner, who is often referred to as “the father of death metal”, bands like Possessed, Obituary and Morbid Angel are often considered pioneers of the genre. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal gained more media attention and since then, death metal has diversified, spawning a variety of subgenres.
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 aggressive, and powerful; blast beats, double bass and exceedingly fast drum patterns frequently add to the complexity 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.
English 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 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. According to Allmusic, Slayer’s third album Reign in Blood “inspired the entire death metal genre”. It had a big impact on the genre leaders.
Possessed, a band that formed in the San Francisco Bay Area during 1983, was attributed by Allmusic as having a Slayer influence on their 1985 album, Seven Churches. 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 Florida: 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 and “the first true death metal record”.
Later history (1991 onward)
Death metal’s popularity achieved its peak between 1992–93, 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.