Death metal is an extreme heavy metal subgenre. The genre is typically characterized by the use of heavily-distorted guitars, harsh vocals that are low-pitched and/or growled, morbid lyrics, exceptionally fast-paced rhythms and melodies, frequent blast beats on drums, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes.

Building off the speed and complexity of thrash metal, death metal came to true prominence by the mid 1980s.[1] Bands like Slayer, Possessed[2] and pioneer death metal bands such as Death and Morbid Angel are considered prime influences in the genre.[3] 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.[4] Since then, death metal has diversified, spawning a rich variety of subgenres.[5][6]

Death metal has been met with considerable hostility from mainstream culture, mainly because of the socially unattractive themes, imagery and stage personae surrounding many bands.[7] It is typically seen as an underground form of music, in part because it does not appeal to mainstream tastes and because its musicians often choose to remain obscure.


The genre is often identified by fast, highly distorted and downtuned guitars, combined with guitar playing techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking. The percussion is usually fast and dynamic. Blast beats, double bass and exceedingly fast drum patterns are frequently used to add to the ferocity of the genre.[8] The vocals are often guttural roars, grunts, snarls, and low gurgles colloquially called death grunts or death growls. This vocal style is sometimes referred to in tongue-in-cheek as Cookie Monster vocals because of the similarity with the popular Sesame Street character of the same name.[9][10]

Death metal is known for its abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, as well as extremely fast and complex guitar and drumwork.[11][12] 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.[13] The setup most frequently used in death metal is two guitars, a bass guitar, a vocalist and a drum kit almost universally using two bass drums or a double bass drum pedal. Although this is the standard setup, bands have been known to incorporate other instruments such as electronic keyboards.

Death metal's lyrical themes typically invoke Z-grade slasher and splatter movie violence,[14] but may also extend to contain themes of Satanism, Occultism, mysticism, and/or social commentary.[15][16] Although violence may be explored in various other genres as well, death metal elaborates on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, rape and necrophilia. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris (author of Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge) commented that this may be attributed to a "fascination" with the human body that all people share to some degree, a "primal desire", and that although the genre often glamorizes violence and obscurities, there is equally as much fear and disgust amid the exploration.[17] Heavy metal author Gavin Baddeley also stated that 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.[18] 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.[19] Needless to say, this has brought such musicians under fire from activists internationally, who claim that fact 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.[1]

According to Alex Webster, bassist of Cannibal Corpse, "The gory lyrics are probably not, as much as people say that's what would keep 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".[20]

Origin of the termEdit

There are multiple theories on how the term "death metal" originated. One theory is that the name originates from an early pioneer of the genre, Death. A Florida journalist explained to his readers that Death play their own kind of metal: "Death's Metal".[21] Others contest that Death is not the origin, but that the harsh vocals and morbid lyrical content generally inspired the genre.[22] Another possible origin is a fanzine called "Death Metal", started by Thomas Fischer and Martin Ain of the band Hellhammer (later Celtic Frost). The name was later given to the 1984 compilation Death Metal released by Hellhammer's label Noise Records.[23][24] 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.[25] A demo released by Death in 1983 is called Death by Metal.[26]

Early history (up to 1991) Edit

The history of death metal begins in the early 1980s. A style emerged that was between death metal, black metal and thrash metal. European bands like Venom, Bathory, and Hellhammer, and bands from the US like Possessed and Slayer formed the basis of this extreme heavy metal music style. From these founding acts styles diversified into death and black metal.[27] Template:Sound sample box align leftTemplate:ListenTemplate:Sample box end

The British 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.[28] Their dark, blistering sound, harsh vocals and macabre, proudly satanic image proved a major inspiration for extreme metal bands.[29] Another highly influential band, Slayer, formed in 1981. Although the band is a thrash metal act, Slayer's music is more violent than thrash metal contemporaries Metallica, Megadeth or Exodus.[30] Slayer is regarded as one of the most sinister thrash metal bands from the early 1980s[31] and are considered the ancestors of and directly responsible for the rise of death metal.[32][33] Their breakneck speed and instrumental prowess combined with lyrics about death, violence, war and Satanism won Slayer a rabid cult following.[34] According to All Music Guide, their third album, Reign in Blood, inspired the entire death metal genre[35] and had a big impact on the genre leaders: Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel.[30]
File:Chuck Schuldiner.jpg

Possessed, a band that formed in 1983, was heavily influenced by early Slayer.[37] Although Possessed's brand of metal resembled Slayer's fast and Satanic thrash metal they're often cited as the first death metal band.[38][39][40] This is largely because of the grunted vocals which set the stage for death metal's breakaway from thrash metal.[37] 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 monumental death metal band was formed in Florida. The band Mantas, composed of Chuck Schuldiner, Kam Lee, and Rick Rozz released a demo entitled Death by Metal in 1983. In 1984, under their new name Death, more demos were released. The tapes circulated through the tape trader world, quickly establishing the band's name. With Death guitarist Schuldiner adopting vocal duties, creating a guttural and non-melodic growl, the band made a major impact on the scene. Fast, dark minor-key riffs and fierce solos were complimented with fast drumming, creating a style that would catch on in tape trading circles.[41][42] Subsequently, Schuldiner has been "widely recognized as the father of death metal".[43]

Along with Possessed and Death there were other influential bands who introduced an early raw extreme metal style, guttural vocals and lyrics concerning death and/or Satanism. In 1984, Bathory released the influential early black metal album Bathory.[44] Hellhammer have released demos as early as 1982. In 1984 they were featured on the split album Death Metal.[45]

As heavy bands like Slayer, Death and Possessed paved the road for death metal in America, heavy European and South American bands were creating a buzz in the metal underground. By the mid 1980s, German thrash metal bands like Kreator, Sodom and Destruction were becoming underground majors.[46][47][48] These band's releases all featured uptempo rhythms, fast guitar solos, raspy screamed vocals and dark lyrical themes; an influence on later death metal bands. At the same time a small South American scene would emerge. Bands like Holocausto, Sarcófago and Sepultura would release death metal records around 1986, most notably Sepultura's first LP, Morbid Visions.

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 subgenre's first "proper" release.[49]

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". 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.

The late 1980s also saw the rise of death metal in Scandinavia (particularly in Sweden, i.e. "Gothenburg metal"), with bands such as Nihilist (which disbanded and bifurcated into Entombed and Unleashed), Grotesque (also disbanded, resulting in At the Gates and Liers in Wait), Carnage (later Dismember), Tiamat, Grave and Amorphis from Finland. Template:Sound sample box align rightTemplate:ListenTemplate:Sample box end

Following the original death metal innovators, a new hybrid began by the end of the decade. Just as the creation of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) lead by Iron Maiden and other bands was sparked by the youthful energy of punk rock in the late 1970s, so did cross-fertilization 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 characterized as a "grindcore" band, although simultaneously a part of the hardcore punk scene. However, Napalm Death themselves changed drastically around or before 1990, leaving grindcore behind. 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, and New York's Suffocation.

To close the circle, the band 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 in highly technical and intricate rhythm guitar work with complex arrangements and emotive guitar solos.[50] Other examples of this 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 clearly present: abrupt tempo and count changes, on occasion extremely fast drumming, morbid lyrics and growling vocal delivery.

As mentioned above, by the end of the 1980s, various record labels internationally began to sign death metal bands at a rapid rate. Earache Records, Relativity Records and Roadrunner Records became the genre's most important labels,[51] with Earache releasing albums by Carcass, Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, and Entombed, and Roadrunner releasing albums by Obituary, Sepultura, and Pestilence. Although these labels had not been death metal labels to start with (Earache was founded for grindcore and Roadrunner for thrash), 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.

Later history (1991–present) Edit

Template:SectOR Death metal's popularity achieved its peak between the 1992-93 era, with some bands such as Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse enjoying mild commercial successes; however, the genre as a whole never broke in to the mainstream owing to its extreme nature. Nevertheless, rather than fading away, death metal diversified in the 1990s, spawning a rich variety of subgenres, including the following. 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 Edit

       Main article: 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. Additionally, Afflicted, Entombed, Amon Amarth, Unleashed and Tiamat helped to define the sound that would evolve into common melodic death metal. Entombed (ex-Nihilist) was the band which started to combine punk and death/thrash riffs and set a trademark "Sunlight studios" guitar sound. This was mainly created by the use of the Boss Heavy Metal distortion pedal, creating a raw, mechanical, electric buzz, which many bands of this genre later tried to reproduce. Nevertheless, this sound was inspired by British deathgrind band Unseen Terror on their debut album Human Error.

Technical/Progressive death metal Edit

       Main article: Technical death metal

Technical death metal and progressive death metal are related terms that refer to bands particularly distinguished by the complexity of their music. Common traits are abruptly changing, sometimes chaotic 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 and/or classical music. While the term technical death metal is sometimes used to describe bands that not only focus on complexity but also on speed and extremity, 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.

Brutal death metal Edit

       Main article: Brutal death metal

Brutal death metal developed by combining death metal with aspects of grindcore, and took death metal to greater extremes in terms of speed and aggression. Brutal death metal tends to be drum-heavy and rhythm oriented leaving little room for melody and harmony. Typically, guitar riffs make use of fast tremolo picking, and heavy palm muting for a percussive effect. The drum lines are fast and blast beats are predominant. Brutal death metal vocalists employ low-pitched death grunts and the lyrics are often, but not always gore related. Some bands occasionally alternate fast and aggressive parts with slower grooves and breakdowns. Bands who focus more on these slower groovy parts and breakdowns are sometimes referred to as slam death metal.[52]

Certain bands in this genre, for example Nile and Suffocation, have also been categorized as technical death metal. There is a sizable overlap between the two genres, as some bands not only focus on speed and aggression but also incorporate technical and progressive elements. Brutal death metal is also associated with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Devourment, Disgorge and Hate Eternal.

Death/Doom Edit

       Main article: Death/doom

Death/doom is a slow and melancholic subgenre inspired by and mixed with classic doom metal. The genre was created by the likes of Autopsy, Incantation, Asphyx, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Disembowelment. Whereas traditional doom metal relies heavily on slow tempo to create a melancholic atmosphere, death/doom is slightly faster and emphasizes minor-key melodies to create a similar atmosphere, and commonly utilizes death growls.

File:Metalmania 2007 - Zyklon 10.jpg

Blackened death metal Edit

       Main article: Blackened death metal

Blackened death metal is a subgenre of death metal fused with the more fluid and melodic elements of black metal. These bands also tend to adopt some of the thematic characteristics of that genre as well; evil, Satanism, and occultism are all common topics and images. Early influences for blackened death metal included death metal bands such as Deicide, Acheron, and Immolation as well as black metal bands like Mayhem. Some good examples of the blackened death metal style would be God Dethroned (Early), Behemoth, Akercocke, Belphegor, Angelcorpse, Zyklon, and Sacramentum.

Deathgrind Edit

       Main article: Deathgrind

Deathgrind is a fusion of death metal mixing the intensity, speed, and brevity of grindcore with the complexity of death metal. It differs 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. It is usually the band's aim to play high tempo and atonal music with little to no slower passages. But this style differs from grindcore in the far more technical approach and less evident hardcore punk influence and aesthetics. Some notable examples of deathgrind are Brujeria, Cattle Decapitation, Cephalic Carnage, Soilent Green, Pig Destroyer, Circle of Dead Children, and Rotten Sound.

Deathcore Edit

       Main article: Deathcore

With the rise in popularity of metalcore, traits of modern hardcore punk have been utilized in death metal. Bands like Job for a Cowboy, The Red Chord, and Suicide Silence combine metalcore with death metal influences. Death metal characteristics such as fast and dynamic drumming (including blast beats), down-tuned guitars, tremolo picking and growled vocals are combined with slower groovy riffs and breakdowns. In the case of some groups such as Despised Icon and Bring Me the Horizon, lyrical themes are less focussed on gore and violence, and more on personal issues such as loneliness and the human condition. This metalcore/death metal hybrid is frequently referred to as deathcore.

Other fusion subgenres Edit

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 prime examples; the former of which went as far as to include jazz-style drum solos on albums, and the latter of which incorporated influences from jazz fusion. Nile have also incorporated Egyptian music and Middle Eastern themes into their work, while Alchemist are one of the only death metal bands that have incorporated psychedelia along with Aboriginal music. Some groups, such as Nightfall and Eternal Tears of Sorrow, have incorporated the heavy use of keyboards and symphonic elements, creating a fusion of symphonic metal and death metal, sometimes referred to as symphonic death metal. Industrial metal has also been fused with death metal on Fear Factory's Soul of a New Machine.

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite video
  2. Possessed - Seven Churches review @ Metal Observer
  3. Morbid Angel page @ Allmusic "Formed in 1984 in Florida, Morbid Angel (along with Death) would also help spearhead an eventual death metal movement in their home state"
  4. Is Metal Still Alive? WATT Magazine, Written by: Robert Heeg, Published: April 1993
  5. Silver Dragon Records "During the 1990s death metal diversified influencing many subgenres"
  6. "The golden years of death metal were from 1988 to 1994, during which time the classics of the genre and all of its variations formed"
  7. BBC News: "Investigating the 'death metal' murders"
  8. FretJam Guitar Lessons, "How to Play Death Metal Guitar"
  9. Template:Cite web. See further examples of this usage at Template:Cite web
  10. Template:Cite web
  11. "all the above characteristics are clearly present: abrupt tempo and count changes, on occasion extremely fast drumming, morbid lyrics and growling delivery"
  12. Template:Cite book
  13. "We say death metal is "structuralist" because, in contrast to rock music, its goal is not a recursive rhythm riff that encourages constant intensity through verse-chorus structure"
  14. Moynihan, Michael, and Dirik Søderlind (1998). Lords of Chaos (2nd ed.). Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-94-6, p. 27
  15. "However, few practise mysticism and most seem to use it solely as metaphorology for their works"
  16. Template:Cite book
  17. Khan-Harris, Keith. Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford: Berg, 2006. ISBN 9781845203993
  18. Baddeley, Gavin. Raising Hell!: The Book of Satan and Rock 'n' Roll
  19. Template:Cite video
  20. Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) interview
  21. Nunslaughter interview "The term Death Metal was coined by a Florida journalist that was explaining to his readers that Death play their own kind of metal it is “Deaths Metal” so we owe the term to him but I think it was a global movement. Bathory's demo was 1983 and so was Hellhammers first demo"
  22. Death / meer dan death metal Aardschok Magazine, Written by: Robert Haagsma, Published: April 1995 "The definition death metal was called into being because of the drift of the lyrics - death in all its shapes - and the death rasp which the "singers" use. That one of the founders of the genre is going by the name Death might be a coincidence"
  23. Template:Cite book
  24. Hellhammer biography"Karl from Noise is planning to call the LP Black Mass but it is Tom who talks him out of it and proposes Death Metal which actually is the name of the underground mag Tom used to run"
  25. Encyclopaedia Metallum "Possessed are hailed as the godfathers of the death metal genre ... They're considered the first death metal group with the name coming from their first demo entitled, Death Metal."
  26. THE DEATH OF DEATH Martelgang Magazine, Written by: Anton de Wit, Published: January 2002, "Yet it's almost unthinkable that the term wasn't inspired by the band name Death or their first demo, Death By Metal from 1983."
  28. Venom - Welcome to Hell review @ Allmusic "Make no mistake: Welcome to Hell, more than any other album, crystallized the elements of what later became known as thrash, death, black, and virtually every other form of extreme metal"
  29. Venom band page @ Allmusic "Venom developed a dark, blistering sound which paved the way for the subsequent rise of thrash music; similarly, their macabre, proudly Satanic image proved a major inspiration for the legions of black metal bands"
  30. 30.0 30.1 Into The Lungs of Hell Metal Hammer magazine, Written by: Enrico de Paola, Translated by: Vincenzo Chioccarelli, Published: March 2000 ""
  31. Slayer band page @ Rockdetector
  32. Slayer on MTV
  33. Template:EnSlayer on
  34. Slayer band page @ Allmusic
  35. Template:Cite web
  36. Rivadavia, Eduardo. "Death—Biography". All Music Guide. Retrieved on November 23, 2007.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Possessed - Seven Churches review @ Allmusic "the band definitely displayed a strong Slayer influence; but it was ... Jeff Becerra who first introduced the barely decipherable grunting vocal style which would epitomize the death metal genre"
  38. Possessed band page @ Allmusic "the brutal Seven Churches was arguably the first true death metal album and set the stage for the genre's breakaway from thrash"
  39. Possessed band page @ Encyclopaedia Metallum "Possessed are hailed as the godfathers of the death metal genre ... They're considered the first death metal group with the name coming from their first demo entitled, ``Death Metal.``"
  40. Possessed - Seven Churches review @ Metal Observer "This band gets props from everyone and it isn't surprising, as they essentially invented Death Metal waaaayy back in about 1983"
  41. Death band page
  42. Template:Cite book
  43. [1]
  44. BNR Metal Bathory page "It was Bathory, along with Venom, who helped pioneered the raw death/black style and gutteral vocals that are now standard in the genres"
  45. BNR Metal Hellhammer page "Regarded as an influential band in both the death and black black metal fields"
  46. Kreator - Pleasure To Kill review @ Metal Observer "But in Europe they had been the unrestricted rulers of the believers"
  47. Sodom - In The Sign Of Evil/Obsessed By Cruelty review @ Metal Observer "but the Underground loved them and SODOM reached a totally cult status!"
  48. Destruction - Sentence Of Death/Infernal Overkill (2 in 1) review @ Metal Observer "Following they thrashed in the mini LP "Sentence Of Death". This technically rather modest album hit the scene like a bomb."
  50. Empty Words, where there are dozens of reviews along this line
  51. 'Death Metal Special: Dealers in Death' Terrorizer #151
  52. Diskreet - Infernal Rise Review