If you’re not familiar with the subgenre of heavy metal known as death metal, you might be surprised to learn that it is one of the most extreme forms of music out there. With its lightning-fast tempos, distorted guitars, and growled or screamed vocals, death metal is not for the faint of heart.
But for those who appreciate the genre’s aggression and intensity, death metal can be a cathartic and exhilarating experience.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of death metal, from its origins to its impact on popular culture. We’ll examine the key characteristics of the genre, the controversies and criticisms it has faced, and the ways in which it has evolved over the years.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a curious newcomer, this article will give you a deeper understanding of one of the most brutal and extreme subgenres of heavy metal.
This Website is reader supported. Some of our posts may contain links to other websites. If you make a purchase via one of our links, we may earn a small commission. Thank You.
Characteristics of Death Metal
At its core, death metal is defined by its aggressive sound and uncompromising attitude. Some of the key characteristics of the genre include:
Fast and Aggressive Tempos
Death metal is known for its lightning-fast tempos, often reaching speeds of 200 beats per minute or more. This frenetic pace creates a sense of urgency and intensity that is central to the genre’s appeal.
Distorted Guitars and Bass
Death metal guitarists often use heavy distortion and low tunings to create a dense, murky sound. The bass is also typically heavily distorted, adding to the overall heaviness of the music.
Growled or Screamed Vocals
Unlike other forms of heavy metal, which often feature clean or operatic vocals, death metal vocals are typically growled, screamed, or barked. This style of singing, known as death growls, is often compared to the sound of a person vomiting or choking.
Complex Rhythms and Time Signatures
Death metal drummers often use complex rhythms and time signatures, incorporating elements of jazz and classical music into their playing. This adds a level of technical proficiency to the music that is admired by many fans of the genre.
Use of Blast Beats and Double Bass Drumming
Two common drumming techniques in death metal are blast beats, which involve rapid-fire snare drumming, and double bass drumming, which involves using both feet to play the bass drum. These techniques contribute to the frenzied, chaotic sound of the music.
Lyrics about Death, Gore, and the Occult
Death metal lyrics often explore dark and taboo subjects, including death, gore, and the occult. This is not to say that all death metal lyrics are violent or offensive, but the genre’s emphasis on extreme subject matter has been a source of controversy for some.
The Evolution of Death Metal
Early Pioneers of the Genre
The early days of death metal were characterized by a raw, unpolished sound that emphasized speed and aggression over melody and structure. Bands like Death, Possessed, and Morbid Angel were among the pioneers of the genre, helping to establish its basic sound and style.
These bands incorporated elements of thrash metal and hardcore punk into their music, creating a sound that was faster, heavier, and more extreme than anything that had come before.
Death, in particular, was a major force in the early development of death metal. Led by guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner, the band released a series of influential albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Symbolic.” Schuldiner’s innovative guitar playing and complex song structures helped to push the boundaries of the genre and pave the way for future bands.
Subgenres of Death Metal
As death metal matured and evolved, it began to splinter into a variety of subgenres. These subgenres, which include technical death metal, melodic death metal, and blackened death metal, added new elements and influences to the basic death metal formula.
Technical death metal, for example, is characterized by its emphasis on technical proficiency and complex song structures. Bands like Necrophagist, Origin, and Decapitated incorporate elements of jazz and classical music into their playing, creating a sound that is both intricate and brutal.
Melodic death metal, on the other hand, places more emphasis on melody and songcraft. Bands like In Flames, At the Gates, and Dark Tranquillity blend the aggressive sound of death metal with more traditional elements of heavy metal, such as clean vocals and harmonized guitar leads.
Blackened death metal combines the brutality of death metal with the dark, atmospheric sound of black metal. Bands like Behemoth, Belphegor, and Dissection incorporate elements of black metal into their music, creating a sound that is both ferocious and haunting.
Influence on Other Genres of Music
Although death metal remains a relatively niche genre, its influence can be heard across a wide range of heavy music. Bands as diverse as Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, and Opeth have all cited death metal as a major influence on their music, incorporating elements of the genre into their own sound.
Death metal has also had an impact on the world of extreme music beyond heavy metal. Bands like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Botch have all been influenced by the technical proficiency and aggressive sound of death metal, incorporating elements of the genre into their own brand of hardcore punk.
Overall, the impact of death metal on the world of heavy music cannot be overstated. Its influence can be heard in everything from black metal to progressive metal to grindcore, and its uncompromising attitude and aggressive sound continue to inspire new generations of musicians.
Controversies and Criticisms of Death Metal
Despite its dedicated fanbase and undeniable impact on the world of heavy music, death metal has also faced its share of controversies and criticisms. Some of the most common criticisms of the genre include:
Accusations of Promoting Violence and Satanism
One of the most persistent criticisms of death metal is that its extreme subject matter promotes violence, gore, and Satanism. Some critics have argued that the genre’s lyrics and imagery are inherently harmful and have a negative impact on young listeners.
However, many defenders of the genre argue that these accusations are unfounded. They point out that death metal is a form of artistic expression, and that its focus on dark and taboo subject matter is no different from that of horror movies, literature, or other forms of art.
Furthermore, they argue that the vast majority of death metal fans are well aware that the genre’s lyrics are meant to be taken as entertainment, rather than as a reflection of real-world beliefs or attitudes.
Criticisms of the Extreme Vocals and Lyrics
Another common criticism of death metal is that its growled or screamed vocals are unintelligible and difficult to understand. Critics argue that this makes it hard for listeners to connect with the music on an emotional level and that the genre’s lyrics often come across as juvenile or crass.
Defenders of death metal, however, argue that the harsh vocals are an essential part of the genre’s sound and style. They point out that death metal is meant to be a visceral and intense form of music, and that the growled or screamed vocals are an effective way of conveying the raw emotion and aggression of the music.
Furthermore, they argue that the lyrics of death metal are often more complex and thought-provoking than they are given credit for, dealing with themes like mortality, spirituality, and the human condition.
Defence of the Genre as an Expression of Artistic Freedom
Finally, defenders of death metal argue that the genre is a legitimate form of artistic expression and that attempts to censor or marginalize it is a violation of free speech and artistic freedom.
They argue that death metal provides an outlet for musicians and fans who might otherwise feel marginalized or excluded from mainstream culture and that its extreme sound and subject matter are a reflection of the intense emotions and experiences of its creators.
Ultimately, the controversies and criticisms that surround death metal are a reflection of the broader cultural debates over the role of art and expression in society. While some may view the genre as disturbing or offensive, others see it as a vital and important form of music that speaks to the deepest, darkest parts of the human psyche.
Death Metal in Popular Culture
Use of Death Metal in Movies, TV Shows, and Video Games
Despite its niche appeal, death metal has made its way into popular culture in a number of surprising ways. One of the most common places where you can hear death metal today is in movies, TV shows, and video games.
Whether it’s the brutal sound of Cannibal Corpse in the opening scene of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” or the haunting melodies of Opeth in the season finale of “Breaking Bad,” death metal has found its way into some of the biggest and most popular movies and TV shows of recent years.
In video games, death metal is often used as the soundtrack for intense action sequences or boss battles. Games like Doom and Brutal Legend feature heavy doses of death metal, while the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises have included numerous death metal songs in their playlists.
Impact on Fashion and Merchandise
Death metal has also had an impact on fashion and merchandise. From band t-shirts and patches to leather jackets and spiked bracelets, death metal has inspired a unique and distinctive fashion aesthetic that is instantly recognizable to fans of the genre.
Many death metal bands also offer a wide range of merchandise, including posters, stickers, and even action figures.
With the rise of online merchandising and social media, it’s easier than ever to find and purchase death metal merchandise from anywhere in the world. Fans can connect with each other online through forums and social media groups, sharing pictures of their favourite bands, concert experiences, and merchandise collections.
Fan Culture and Community
Perhaps most importantly, death metal has created a vibrant and passionate fan culture that is unlike any other in the world of music. From underground fanzines and record labels to massive music festivals like Maryland Deathfest and Wacken Open Air, death metal has inspired a global community of fans who are dedicated to keeping the genre alive and thriving.
Death metal fans are often portrayed as extreme and fanatical, but in reality, they are a diverse group of people united by their love of heavy music. Many fans are drawn to the genre’s uncompromising attitude and extreme sound, while others appreciate the technical proficiency and complex song structures of the music. Some fans are also drawn to the genre’s darker themes, finding catharsis in the exploration of death, gore, and the occult.
Regardless of their individual reasons for being a fan of the genre, death metal fans are known for their loyalty and dedication. They are willing to travel long distances to attend concerts and festivals and are always eager to support their favourite bands through merchandise purchases and social media engagement.
It’s clear that death metal has played an important role in the world of heavy music, inspiring countless musicians and fans around the world. Its raw sound and uncompromising attitude continue to challenge and provoke listeners, and its influence can be heard in a wide range of other genres of music.
Looking to the future, it’s likely that death metal will continue to evolve and adapt, incorporating new influences and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in heavy music. As long as there are fans who appreciate the raw power and intensity of the genre, death metal will continue to thrive, inspire, and challenge the world of music.
In conclusion, death metal may not be for everyone, but it has left an indelible mark on the world of heavy music and popular culture. From its use in movies, TV shows, and video games, to its influence on fashion and merchandise, to its passionate fan culture and community, death metal continues to inspire and challenge listeners around the world.
Why is it called death metal?
The term “death metal” was coined in the mid-1980s to describe a new style of heavy metal music that emphasized extreme aggression, speed, and brutality. The name reflects the genre’s fascination with death, violence, and the darker aspects of human existence.
Who is the big 4 of death metal?
There is no definitive “big 4” of death metal like there is for thrash metal. However, there are a number of influential and important bands that helped define the genre, including Death, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, and Obituary.
What is considered death metal?
Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the 1980s and is characterized by extreme aggression, speed, and brutality. The genre is typically defined by its use of growled or screamed vocals, fast and intricate guitar riffs, and blast beats on the drums. Death metal bands often explore dark and taboo themes, including violence, death, and horror.
Why is death metal so violent?
The violent and aggressive themes of death metal reflect a fascination with darkness, morbidity, and the more extreme aspects of the human experience. Many death metal bands explore themes related to death, violence, and horror, often in a graphic and visceral way. The extreme nature of death metal can be seen as a reaction against the more mainstream and commercial aspects of heavy metal music.
Is death metal bad for the brain?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that listening to death metal or any other type of music is inherently bad for the brain. However, some research has suggested that listening to violent or aggressive music may have a short-term effect on mood or behaviour. It’s important to note that this effect is not necessarily negative, and that people’s reactions to music are highly subjective and individual.
Why is death metal unpopular?
Death metal is a highly niche genre that appeals to a relatively small subset of heavy metal fans. The extreme aggression and brutality of death metal can be off-putting to some listeners, while others may find the focus on dark and violent themes unappealing.
Additionally, death metal is often associated with a DIY, underground ethos that can make it difficult for bands to break into the mainstream. However, despite its relative lack of commercial success, death metal remains a vibrant and vital part of the heavy metal landscape.
About the Author
Mark Nye is a writer and guitar teacher with a passion for heavy metal and hard rock. With years of experience playing and teaching guitar, Mark has developed a deep appreciation for the music and culture of the genre. In addition to teaching guitar, he enjoys writing about heavy metal and hard rock music and sharing his knowledge and insights with others. When he’s not teaching or writing, you can find Mark listening to his favourite bands and discovering new music to add to his collection.