Heavy Metal 101: The History of Death Metal
IN THE BEGINNING: THE CAULDRON BUBBLES
Thrash was fast and heavy, but death metal was just faster, more extreme and more out there. -Jim Welch, former head of Earache U.S.
As innovative as they were, the pioneers of death metal were standing on the scarred, blood-slicked shoulders of giants. Even Death, who are widely considered grandfathers of the genre, had their influences and peers.
Death, led by the pioneering Chuck Schuldiner, formed in 1983 as Mantas, and released their first demo, Death by Metal, on Sept. 7, 1984, before changing their name and re-issuing the demo. Clearly, that means death metal was directly named after Death, right? …Not so fast. Blazing Satanic San Francisco band Possessed started in 1983, as well, and their 1984 demo was actually called Death Metal. And both acts were predated by the evil rumbling roar of Venom, whose first album, Welcome to Hell, came out in 1981; and let's not forget the speed and lyrical carnage of Slayer, which formed in 1981 and appeared on Metal Massacre III before releasing their full-length debut, Show No Mercy, in 1983; then there was Germany’s ripping thrash band Kreator, which formed in 1982 as Tormentor, and eventually issued one of the fastest, heaviest thrash songs of all time, “Pleasure to Kill.”
Without the speed, aggression and graphic lyrics of these and other thrash metal bands, Death, Possessed and of course, death metal might never have been born. Members of Death and other progenitors of the style, including Morbid Angel, Amon (later Deicide) and Xecutioner (Obituary), adopted many of the techniques of tenets of the more extreme thrash metal outfits – rapid beats, speedy palm, muted riffing, horrific growls and lyrics about murder, serial killers, disease, dying and satanic rites. But they upped the ante, playing faster, growling lower tuning down their instruments and feeding distortion through the vocals. They also traded the spikes and jeans look of many thrash bands for a more slovenly t-shirt and sweatpants vibe. And some, like Morbid Angel and Deicide pushed the theatrical envelope; the former’s guitarist, Trey Azagthoth, was known for cutting himself onstage, and the latter act sometimes flung animal innards into the crowd.
“Everybody always wants to push extremes to the greatest degree, and that’s something that drove the death metal guys,” says Jim Welch, former head of Earache U.S. “Thrash was fast and heavy, but death metal was just faster, more extreme and more out there.”
PLANTING THE FLAG: TEARING IT UP IN TAMPA
The shed we rented smelled like rat shit and it was hotter than f–k. We had an air conditioner that didn’t do shit and we’d be totally soaked by the time we were done practicing. But we were determined. -Alex Webster, Cannibal Corpse
Major music scenes typically blossom in big cities: New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, London. Strangely, the death metal movement began in and around slow n’ sleepy Tampa, Florida. Death (originally from Orlando), Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Atheist, Cynic and Massacre are just a handful of the bigger bands that developed in the area. There are several reasons why these groups and many others bred like subway rats.
Back in the ‘80s, teens in the area that were into metal admired two bands, speed-metal group Nasty Savage and power metal outfit Savatage, the only local metal acts that landed noteworthy record deals. Moreover, the dudes in the bands – especially Savatage – were regular guys that offered advice, support and most importantly, hope for younger musicians. When they saw Savatage and Nasty Savage make it out of the insular local scene, numerous musicians who thought they were stuck in the garage figured maybe they could escape the local Tampa scene as well.
It seemed like every band that became influential from that Florida scene was there that night. It was just a room of artists interacting and there was a lot of camaraderie and respect. And you could feel it. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is a scene.’ -Paul Masvidal, Cynic
At that point, extreme musicians started practicing more and looking at their band as more than a hobby. Besides, it wasn’t like there were many other distractions or outlets for them to vent their youthful energy and frustration.
The temperature in Tampa often rose above 90 degrees and the oppressive humidity made being outside for prolonged period of time feel like roasting like a pig on a spit. So, lots of kids formed bands and stayed in their parents’ houses or garages to practice. If they were really motivated, they rented seedy, but relatively inexpensive (compared to other cities) practice spaces. And to save cash, many groups honed their craft in outdoor storage sheds, which they’d rent and jerry-rig with air conditioning.
“That was the worst,” recalls Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster. “The shed we rented smelled like rat shit and it was hotter than f--k. We had an air conditioner that didn’t do shit and we’d be totally soaked by the time we were done practicing. But we were determined.”
Because of the violent acts and fights that sometimes broke out at death metal shows, many clubs refused to book bands until after the music became popular and offers were too lucrative to refuse. The few venues that did business with death metal bands – such as The Brass Mug (which is still around) – were small, acoustically inferior and often without stages. To compensate, groups put together their own shows in backyards, VFW halls, community centers and other unlikely spots.
“I’ll never forget a party I went to in an old barn in central Florida,” says Cynic frontman Paul Masvidal (ex-Death). “Amon were playing and then Xecutioner (which became Obituary). I went to the party with [Death frontman] Chuck [Schuldiner] and I remember [ex-Morbid Angel vocalist] David Vincent saying to Chuck, ‘Man, I love your vocals on [Death’s third album] Spiritual Healing, which he had the advance cassette of. It seemed like every band that became influential from that Florida scene was there that night. It was just a room of artists interacting and there was a lot of camaraderie and respect. And you could feel it. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is a scene.’”
Malevolent Creation frontman Phil Fasciana had a similar experience around the same time. “I’d met Chuck in ’89,” he says. “We got in contact with him and hung out for a while, he introduced me to [producer and engineer] Scott [Burns] who was doing sound for a show at an airplane hangar. It was Morbid Angel, Obituary, Atheist, Amon and Nocturnus. That’s where I met every key member of every band. That was the first sign that something really cool was happening.”
THE "SOUND" OF A MOVEMENT
We believed in ourselves and our craft. We pulled [our first album] 'Altars of Madness' out of thin air. That’s the result of us living on an island all by ourselves. We came up with something for ourselves that we wanted to do. -David Vincent, ex-Morbid Angel
One of the most popular American death metal bands, Cannibal Corpse, actually formed in Buffalo, New York in 1988, and didn’t move to Tampa until 1994. Yet they recorded in Florida starting with their 1990 debut, Eaten Back to Life. Cannibal Corpse easily could have recorded the album in multiple studios in New York, but instead, they flew 1,233 miles to Tampa to work at the legendary Morrisound Recording studio with the go-to death metal producer Scott Burns.
By 1990, having already recorded for Death, Obituary, Atheist and Deicide, Burns knew exactly how to position the mikes so they’d capture the nuances of every death metal beat, chord and scream. While he may have perfected the craft, he had good rooms to work in and excellent role models.
“My brother [Jim] and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to really record heavy drums,” says Tom Morris, co-owner of the studio. “You gotta have a drum kit that can cut through a wall of blasting guitars. So it was extremely important to have a good acoustic space and solid engineering technique, and that was something we passed on to Scott and a few other guys we worked with. And eventually, Scott wound up doing a bunch of wall-to-wall death metal sessions.”
“If you listen to a lot of the heavy thrash bands, even Dark Angel, Kreator or Celtic Frost – they were heavy as hell, but I always though the production sounded like shit,” Burns says. “There was this general consensus that nobody who produced stuff like Sepultura gave a shit about it. They’d say, ‘Oh, they play too fast and it sounds like a dog barking.’
People who don’t know this music think it’s just a bunch of noise and it’s really easy to play. That’s totally untrue. You may not like it, but death metal is really complex. You have to have a really fine-tuned ear to appreciate it and a lot of the guys in these bands are incredible musicians. -Alex Webster, Cannibal Corpse
So no one ever tried to make them sound good. And at the time, Jim, and Tom really were pioneers as far as doing drum triggering. And they invested money in PC electronics and figured how to use that to make high really good recordings. And I jumped right in the fire and learned as I went along.”
With high-quality production that differentiated one band from another, artists in Tampa could carve and cultivate their own identities. Sure, there were similarities. The drummers often played blast beats — which used double-bass drumming and were considerably faster than thrash beats – and guitarists played rapid up and down strokes with few pauses (called tremolo picking). The rhythms flip-flopped from a high-octane burn to doomy, palm-muted chugs and often relied on irregular time signatures, and the leads were more cacophonous than Slayer’s. To the untrained ear, it was a mess, but that just made it a more exclusive form of music for those who could separate one cacophonic tone from another.
“People who don’t know this music think it’s just a bunch of noise and it’s really easy to play,” Webster says. “That’s totally untrue. You may not like it, but death metal is really complex. You have to have a really fine-tuned ear to appreciate it and a lot of the guys in these bands are incredible musicians.”
Over their 18-year, seven-album career, Death experimented with a variety of styles from the uncompromised death metal of Scream Bloody Gore to the proggy, esoteric The Sounds of Perseverance, Atheist and Cynic mixed prog-rock and jazz with crushing distortion and Morbid Angel excelled due to the incredible speed of their erstwhile drummer Pete Sandoval and the guitar skills of Trey Azagthoth. For anyone who looks beyond the band’s Satanic image and bloodletting rituals, Morbid Angel were death metal masters. Their debut album, 1989’s Altars of Madness, raised the bar from a musician’s perspective and gave others in the scene a motivational punch in the teeth.
“It wasn’t about having gimmicks or being part of a scene,” insists ex-Morbid Angel vocalist David Vincent. “We believed in ourselves and our craft. We pulled [our first album] Altars of Madness out of thin air. That’s the result of us living on an island all by ourselves. We came up with something for ourselves that we wanted to do. It was about writing good songs, not about playing fast. Yeah, we like playing fast, and we happened to have a drummer who is capable of very high-speed coordination, so why not take advantage of it?”
While Morbid Angel matched their flesh-slashing antics with stellar playing, Deicide relied more on shock value, though their music was far from shabby. Frontman Glen Benton had an inverted cross branded into his forehead and was known for stuffing mannequins with rotting animal innards. Obituary, too, were less musically adept than Morbid Angel or Death, so they downplayed whirlwind tempos for chugging, grimy half-time rhythms that sounded like they were oozing from a sewage treatment plant. Cannibal Corpse were competent, charismatic players, but what separated them from other death metal bands were the grizzly lyrics. Song titles included “Entrails Ripped From a Virgin’s C--t,” “F--ked With a Knife” and “Post Mortal Ejaculation,” and the lyrical extremism matched the graphic subject matter, an aesthetic that helped fuel the development of the even more extreme subgenre goregrind.
“Most Western music is people singing from the heart — singing to a girlfriend, so a lot of people are freaked out by our songs,” says Webster. “But our lyrics are just stories. They’re just written to be as gross and disgusting as we could make them. At night we’d get a case of beer and watch gory horror movies. But we’re not violent people at all. We just play extreme music so we figured we needed extreme lyrics.”
Just as Florida death metal was reaching its peak of popularity (Cannibal Corpse were even featured in the Jim Carey film Ace Ventura) a highly publicized, political imbroglio put the Corpse in the crosshairs of the PMRC, Bob Dole, Pat Robertson and Joe Lieberman, among others. And while the First Amendment clearly protected the band’s music in America, Cannibal Corpse’s albums were temporarily banned in Germany along with performances of anything from their first three records.
Despite the protests, or maybe because of them, death metal continued to grow in Florida and across the country. Bands from other cities traveled to Tampa to record at Morrisound to capture that quintessential death metal sound, which eventually became de rigueur. Before long, the market was flooded and it was hard to separate the original, innovative bands from the dozens of Death and Cannibal Corpse clones. When the grunge movement hit, death metal faded from the mainstream, but remained strong in the underground. As it evolved and mutated, metalcore and deathcore bands including Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Bleeding Through, Hatebreed, Atreyu and Shadows Fall applied elements of death metal to their own breakdown-heavy rhythms, while other purists played old-school sounds for new audiences.
For all us guys still playing this shit, I think it’s in our blood and it just comes natural. Technology has changed, but we’re still the same f--king punks. -Glen Benton, Deicide
At the same time, many Florida stalwarts, including Obituary, Morbid Angel, Massacre, Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation have kept putting out records, touring and helped keep the death metal fire burning strong.
A lengthy book could be penned about another half-dozen or more North American death metal scenes that had substantial impact and left their distinct bloody handprint on the genre. In short, death metal spread around the country like a lethal virus. California, New York, Chicago, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Arizona and even Ohio and Michigan teemed with underground death metal through the aughts and beyond.
Noteworthy North American Death Metal Bands:
Suffocation, Immolation, Angelcorpse, Six Feet Under, Incantation, Autopsy, Vital Remains, Pig Destroyer, Monstrosity, Master, Deceased, Broken Hope, Arsis, Through the Eyes of Dead, A Life Once Lost, Disgorge, Pyrexia, Abcess, Origin, The Red Chord, Divine Heresy, Skinless, Abysmal Dawn, Funerus, Massacre, Assuck, Capharnaum, Decrepit Birth, Dying Fetus, Goatwhore, Mortician, The Black Dahlia Murder, Misery Index, Wretched (The list could go on for pages).
ENGLAND'S SCREAMING: THE BIRTH OF GRINDCORE
Grindcore is the bridge between thrash and death metal mixed with brutally fast hardcore. You take it and throw it all in a blender, hit puree and stand back. -Dan Lilker, ex-Brutal Truth
Around the same time as Florida was heating up for a death metal revolution, a batch of musicians in the UK was running a somewhat parallel, if even more extreme obstacle course. Inspired by various sources — the Flint, Michigan death metal band Repulsion, Massachusetts group Siege, UK punk outfit Discharge, Japanese hardcore groups like G.I.S.M. and leftist politics — Napalm Death and their peers and offshoots brought a new type of anarchy to the UK. Supported by the late BBC radio DJ John Peel, who regularly put bands like Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, Carcass, Unseen Terror and Electro Hippies on his radio program and invited them to record sessions in his studio, grindcore quickly picked up a strong underground following that spread to the U.S. and inspired acts like Brutal Truth, Impaled and Pig Destroyer.
“Grindcore is the bridge between thrash and death metal mixed with brutally fast hardcore,” says ex-Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker. “You take it and throw it all in a blender, hit puree and stand back.”
The premiere label for grindcore was Nottingham, England-based Earache Records, which started eventually set up shop in the U.S. to pushed its bands to the global death metal market. While many musicians that signed to the label have insisted that Earache ripped them off and still owe them royalties, the label nonetheless, exposed the North American market to the sounds that so thrilled John Peel in their native land. And in 1993, the seemingly impossible happened. Earache struck a distribution deal with Columbia Records, and before they knew what hit them, publicists and promotion departments used to working pop and alt-rock were suddenly pushing Napalm Death, Carcass, Fudge Tunnel and others.
“That whole deal with Columbia was quite absurd,” says Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway. “We went from being treated like scum to being bought expensive dinners by all these executives and big shots. Before, we were lucky to get into fanzines and suddenly we’re in Entertainment Weekly!”
While grindcore was a movement with clear roots and a distinct purpose – it took a while to develop, starting off in grimy clubs like Birmingham’s The Mermaid, which booked some of Napalm Death’s first gigs. After that band released the seminal splatterfest Scum, a frantic, barely contained speedfest recorded by two almost entirely different lineups, many of the group’s founders and pioneers splintered into new, equally influential bands, including Carcass, Head of David, Godflesh and Cathedral. Meanwhile, Napalm Death soldiered on and have released 15 albums to date. In addition, many musicians both in England and around the world, formed grindcore bands. And thanks to Carcass, whose lyrics were about medical procedures and various acts of butchery, goregrind bubbled up from the basements of horror fiends around the world. Without Carcass, Impaled, Engorged, Regurgitate, Exhumed, Disgorge, Jig-Ai, Squash Bowels, Aborted, Devourment, Prostitute Disfigurement, Nasum, Gorerotted, Leng Tch’e and countless others might never have formed.
“That’s all flattering, but some people have missed the point, sexualizing the violence or being gross for the sake of it,” says guitarist Bill Steer. “Whatever we were doing with Carcass, there was definitely some thought behind it. I’m not saying anything that’s going on now would necessarily disgust me. I would cringe a bit. But it’s easy to be shocking, isn’t it? It’s easy to say horrible things. I’d like to say we did it with a sense of humor.”
After releasing the grizzly Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious in 1991, Carcass issued the pioneering tech-death metal record Heartwork, which included performances by Michael Amott (who would form Arch Enemy). Then they took an even broader leap into melodic metal with 1996’s Swansong, which was their last album before their comeback record Surgical Steel in 2013. While the band’s original split was mostly due to the 1999 brain hemorrhage of band co-founder and drummer Ken Owen, many of their old-school fans felt betrayed after Swansong came out, leaving the musicians feeling somewhat disillusioned.
“How could that album have been a mistake?” asks Walker. “It’s no more of a mistake than [our first album, 1988’s] Reek of Putrefaction. As far as the vilification of Swansong goes, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people who say it was our least liked album, the more they believe it. Of course, someone who likes Symphony of Sickness is going to despise that album. If someone likes Heartwork, then yeah, they’re probably not going to be a fan of that album. But there’s a certain audience that discovered Carcass through Swansong and who find great pleasure from it. To me, it’s a gateway album through which you’ll discover our back catalog and then move on to discovering more and more extreme stuff.”
Grindcore and Goregrind Worth Testing Out:
Bolt Thrower, Pig Destroyer, Nasum, Wormrot, Cephalic Carnage, Exhumed, Repulsion, Cock and Ball Torture, General Surgery, Dead Infection, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Regurgitate, Last Days of Humanity, Cattle Decapitation, Discordance Axis, Exhumed, Terrorizer, Antigama, Phobia, Machetazo, Magrudergrind, Antigama, Benumb, Circle of Dead Children, Meat Shits, Impaled, Haemorrhage.
SCANDINAVIAN METAL ATTACK
Things started happening in Gothenburg in 1989 and 1990, but it was so small and no one cared about it. says Dark Tranquillity vocalist Mikael Stanne. At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity would play shows and no one would show up. But I think we had a different mentality than a lot of scenes. We just wanted to do something we liked. -Mikael Stanne, Dark Tranquillity
It’s impossible to address the history of death metal without including the Swedish bands that surfaced mostly from Stockholm and Gothenburg around the time Tampa was hitting full boil.
In Gothenburg, there’s one band that rules supreme, and that’s Iron Maiden. Everyone from Gothenburg loves Iron Maiden for some reason, so naturally their version of death metal would be melodic and with a twin guitar harmony attack. -Patrik Jensen, The Haunted
While the Stockholm bands tended to be punk-edged and corrosive – including Entombed, Dismember, Carnage and Grave – the Gothenburg groups embraced speed but also strong melody and swift guitar harmonies. The combination spawned groups, including At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, all of whom had a heavy influence on the Western Massachusetts and Orange County metalcore scenes that came later. Every scene has its square pegs and two of the best and most enduring bands from Sweden were its most unconventional — Meshuggah and Opeth, who wrote their own rules and influenced scores of followers in the process.
“In Sweden, death metal started in Stockholm,” asserts Anders Bjorler ex-guitarist for At the Gates and The Haunted. “Grotesque were together in 1987 and so were Nihilist. And the Stockholm bands were more based around Judas Priest and Motorhead – a fast, but rock and roll kind of approach — more dirty than what came out of Gothenburg.”
“In Stockholm bands were very heavily influenced by punk rock and noisy MC5 kind of stuff. They were all about getting feedback on the guitar and being unpolished, “says The Haunted guitarist Patrik Jensen. “Nihilist were the first band out of Stockholm. They did a few demos and then broke up. [Bassist] Johnny Hedlund formed Unleashed and the rest of the guys became Entombed.”
Inspired by what was happening in Stockholm, a gaggle of musicians in Gothenburg started forming their own bands. While the region seemed as unlikely to forge a lasting metal scene as Tampa was in America, the right combination of players and bands united and some legendary groups emerged.
“Things started happening in Gothenburg in 1989 and 1990, but it was so small and no one cared about it, says Dark Tranquillity vocalist Mikael Stanne.
Meshuggah was kind of like a secret project because they were way up north, 12 hours from Stockholm and no one ever knew what they were doing. So they were not really connected with the scene. -Anders Bjorler, ex-At the Gates
“At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity would play shows and no one would show up. But I think we had a different mentality than a lot of scenes. We just wanted to do something we liked. We didn’t care what anyone else thought. It wasn’t so competitive. We all supported each other. None of the bands tried to be cooler than the others.”
“In Gothenburg, there’s one band that rules supreme and that’s Iron Maiden,” Jensen says. “Everyone from Gothenburg loves Iron Maiden for some reason, so naturally their version of death metal would be melodic and with a twin guitar harmony attack." The former singer for The Haunted, Marco Aro, was from Stockholm, and he once said, "The difference between Stockholm bands and Gothenburg bands is in Stockholm you join a band to walk through the VIP door of the nightclub and in Gothenburg you join a band because you want to play and you stay home practicing Friday and Saturday night.’ There were a few places to play, but people were so focused on being nerdy with their instruments and their bands and rehearsed all the time. The Haunted shared a rehearsal space with In Flames for a year or two and everyone just hung out together playing and drinking beer.”
As the Gothenburg scene started to grow, musicians started to jam with other players and lineups began to shift. In Flames’ original session vocalist Michael Stanne wanted to play guitar, so he joined Dark Tranquillity, though he took over as their vocalist in 1993, when Anders Friden, who sang for Dark Tranquillity from 1991 to 1993, joined In Flames.
Eventually, as bands landed record deals and developed international fan bases, some musicians became a little territorial. But the rifts were minor when compared to most band rivalries, even when tempers momentarily flared.
"At the Gates had just recorded [1995’s] Slaughter of the Soul," Bjorler recalls. “And [In Flames] were supposed to record [1996’s] The Jesters Race. We had already done our album so they wanted to borrow my amp. I first I was like, ‘Yeah, cool.’ But then I stopped and I said no because I knew they wanted to duplicate our guitar sound and that’s why they wanted to use my amp. They were huge At the Gates fans. We shared a rehearsal room with them and from across the hallway, we heard them play At the Gates songs all the time. They were an At the Gates cover band in the beginning, almost.”
Meshuggah, which formed in 1987 in Umea, Sweden didn’t sound like either the Stockholm bands or the Gothenburg groups. From the start, their music was heavily percussive, driven by complex polyrhythms and bruising down tuned guitar riffs. At times, it sounded like the rhythm section and the guitar and vocals were playing entirely different songs, but the music was so immaculately constructed that even though the sounds intertwined the music always met in unison before blasting into the next progression.
“Meshuggah was kind of like a secret project because they were way up north, 12 hours from Stockholm and no one ever knew what they were doing,” Bjorler says. “So they were not really connected with the scene.”
“We literally ignore everything else around us and just go with whatever hits us,” says Meshuggah guitarist Mårten Hagström. “That’s the best way to describe us, and for us, it’s the only way to stay focused on our vision and evolve. When we do that we get caught up in a motion we can’t really control. We get together and something happens, and hopefully, it makes us feel inspired about what we’re doing.”
We are influenced by everything from Morbid Angel to Nick Drake. I think it’s ridiculous to attach a genre to our music. -Mikael Åkerfeldt, Opeth
Opeth, too, took their own path to sonic demolition. The band started as a brutal, but fairly conventional death metal group. By Still Life, their fourth album in four years, the band’s prog proclivities were starting to sweep through the mix, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what was to come.
“Musically I was into really twisted, dark and evil sounding riffs,” frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt says. “Then, as I developed as a musician, I expanded my vocabulary. But I always reserve the right to return to something I’ve done before, which is why I’ve written some recent songs about demonic possession. It’s almost like a regression – classic death metal themes, but I wrote it my own way at my own choosing.”
Today, Opeth are more known for the doom, prog, folk, jazz, psychedelic and even classical influences they incorporate into their songs. At the same time, the band is fully capable of blasting off and taking the listener on an energized excursion to the edge of oblivion.
“We are influenced by everything from Morbid Angel to Nick Drake,” Åkerfeldt says. “I think it’s ridiculous to attach a genre to our music. It’s just what it is. And there’s no other band on the planet like us. There are death metal parts in there, but there are also Pink Floyd and King Crimson influences in there as well and Leonard Cohen, Krautrock bands like Can and Amon Duul. We want every album to sound different than the last one. We might do a doomy or psychedelic thing for one record, but maybe for the next one we’ll do a full-on grindcore album. Anything goes.”
Other Crucial Swedes
Sweden: Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Dissection, Nihilist, Vomitory, Centinex, Luciferion, Carnage, Nirvana 2002, Eucharist, Edge of Sanity, Unleashed, Bloodbath, General Surgery, Death Breath, Soilwork, Hypocrisy, Deranged, Repugnant.
Almost at the same time as Stockholm’s death metal scene was ramping up, musicians in other parts of Scandinavia – Finland, Norway and Denmark – were listening to a lot of the same American and English bands and coming up with their own style of musical brutality. Here are the major scenes and some of their noteworthy bands.
Finland: Defleshed, Demigod, Gorephilia, Demilich, Amorphis, Sentenced, Amoral, Corpsessed, Convulse, Demigod, Abhorrence, Depravity, Children of Bodom, Chaosbreed,
Norway: Early Darkthrone, Gorelord, Obliteration, Aeturnus, Blood Red Throne, Molested Blood Tsunami, Cadaver, Myrkskog, Chton, Cleaver, Bloodthorn, Execration, Obliteration.
Denmark: Hatesphere, Iniquity, Exmortum, Saturnus, Illdisposed, Dawn of Demise
THE FURTHER GLOBALIZATION OF DEATH METAL
How cool is it when you tell your friends, “I found this band?” Nobody knew about it but you knew it and you start spreading it and soon there’s this whole group of people who like it, too. And then we started making music and people started following us in the same way, which was really amazing. -Max Cavalera, ex-Sepultura
A sometimes overlooked region of the world that spawned a noteworthy death metal scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s is South America. While Sepultura was by far the most successful act from the region, attaining global recognition with their feral hybrid of death metal, punk and thrash (and later, groove and tribal metal). At first, Sepultura were strictly a local phenomenon. Their first release was 1985’s Bestial Devastation / Século XX a split-LP they release with the band Overdose. Sepultura’s first proper album, 1986’s Morbid Visions, and its follow-up, 1987’s Schizophrenia were also regional releases at first. But they were ultra-heavy death metal inspired Slayer, early Kreator and Hellhammer, one of frontman Max Cavalera’s favorite bands.
“My brother [and drummer Igor] and I were two out of, like 10 people in Brazil, or at least in our city Belo Horizonte, who knew who Hellhammer were,” Cavalera says. “And that was a cool underground feeling. How cool is it when you tell your friends, “I found this band?” Nobody knew about it but you knew it and you start spreading it and soon there’s this whole group of people who like it, too. And then we started making music and people started following us in the same way, which was really amazing.”
The buzz Sepultura caused in South America made its way to North America, and in 1988 Roadrunner Records flew in Cavalera to talk about a worldwide record deal. Soon after, Sepultura recorded their U.S. breakthrough, Beneath the Remains with Scott Burns. The album came out in 1989 and set the stage for other extreme Brazilian bands, including the popular Rio Grande do Sul death metal outfit Krisiun, which formed in 1990 and have released 10 albums. Today, many areas of South America are littered with scorching death metal bands, including Chile, Colombia, and Peru. But the seeds of the movement were planted in Brazil.
Brazil: Sarcafago, Vulcano, Mutilator, Overdose, Sextrash, Panic, Holocausto, Necrófago, Impurity
Colombia: Massacre, Parabellum, Sacrilegio, Astaroth, Profancion
Chile: Pentagram, Cancerbero, Atomic Aggressor, Sadism, Torturer
Peru: Mortem, Hadez, Anal Vomit
Here are some other regions that have developed strong death metal scenes, and some bands to check out from each.
Scepticflesh, Astarte, Blessed by Perversion, Head Cleaner, Mortal Torment, Dead Congregation, Mass Infection
UK (outside of grindcore scene)
Benediction, Akercocke, Gorerotted, Annal Nathrakh, Anterior, Engraved Disillusion
Massacra, Gorod, Necrowretch, Benighted, Necroblood, Perversifier, Cadaveric Fumes.
Necrophagist, Fleshcrawl, Defeated Sanity, Fragments of Unbecoming, Morgoth, Crematory, Obscura, Neaera,
Midian, Seed, Nocturnal Damnation, The Crescents, Necramyth
Coffins, Defiled, GxSxD, Dir En Grey, Shadow, Evilchoir, Imperial Circus Dead Decadence, Serenity in Murder
Norcelement, Operating Table, Narakam, Regicide, Excruciate
Chthonic, Guttural Corpora Cavernosa, Gorepot, Anthelion, Beyond Cure
Blood Duster, The Berzerker, Mortification, Abominator, Disembowelment, Portal
Behemoth, Hate, Vader, Decapitated, Dies Irae, Dead Infection, Azarath
Abominable Putridity, Abnormity, Katelepsy, Extermination Dismemberment, Septory
Catafalc, Aggressor, Beyond the Structure, Human Ground, Mass in Comatose, Obscured
Iird Sovereign, Vile Impalement, Plague Throat, Shades of Retribution, Gutslit, Crypted
Confess, Arsames, ArthimotH, Trivax
Janaza, Dog Faced Corpse, Cyaxares
Adorned in Ash, Architecture of Aggression, SacriFist, The Drift, Theatre Runs Red
Death Metal started with a batch of teenagers in Tampa, Florida, that were fans of thrash, but wanted to create something even more extreme. So they screamed lower, recorded more indecipherable vocals, played faster and wrote songs about killing and dying. It’s just too bad that the man who was arguably the godfather of the movement, Chuck Schuldiner, isn’t alive to see the impact of his efforts. Sadly, the frontman of Death died from brain cancer on December 13, 2001.
Fortunately, his legacy lives on. Over the past five years, most of the band’s catalog has been reissued with bonus material. And beginning in 2012 ex-members of the band started playing Death material on tour under the names Death to All and then Death DTA. As one of the leaders of the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre said on July 26, 1794, “Death is the commencement of immortality.”
Or as Glen Benton said far more recently: ‘This is just how I get my kicks. I just can't let it go. For all us guys still playing this shit, I think it’s in our blood and it just comes natural. Technology has changed, but we’re still the same f--king punks.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
Best Death Metal Album of Each Year Since 1985