Death metal is an extreme sub-genre of heavy metal music. It is notable for the use of distorted guitars, tremolo picking, growling vocals, double kick and/or blast beat fast drumming, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, and varied song structures. In some circumstances, artists will incorporate melodic riffs and harmonies for effect.
Death metal emerged in the mid-1980s from the merging of thrash metal and early black metal. thrash metal bands such as Slayer, Kreator, Celtic Frost and Venom were early influences. Possessed and Death are widely considered the first progenitors, but Obituary, Carcass, Deicide, Sepultura, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel are also elders of the genre. Death metal saw its rise during the change of the decade from the late 1980s thru early 1990s with the arrival of niche record labels like Combat, Earache and Roadrunner who signed death metal bands at a rapid rate. Since then, death metal has diversified into many sub-genres. It can be said that niche (or 'indie' labels) became the engine that drove the music industry during the 1990s and early 2000s before the arrival of music downloading on the internet.
The name 'death metal' is said to have started with English heavy metal band Venom, who not only named the black metal genre but also first expressed the basic elements of what later became known as thrash metal, black metal AND death metal, with their 1981 album Welcome to Hell. Dark sounds, macabre and harsh vocals mixed with overtly Satanic imagery impressed extreme metal bands. California, USA based Slayer, although an early thrash metal act, was more violent than their thrash contemporaries of the time. In 1981 (the year of their founding) Slayer inspired from the get-go by boasting breakneck speed with lyrics about death, violence, Satanism and war. It is said that their 3rd album "Reign In Blood", "inspired the entire death metal genre" (Allmusic).
San Francisco based Possessed, a band that formed in 1983, was attributed by Allmusic as "connecting the dots" between thrash metal and death metal with their 1985 debut album, Seven Churches. Although many say they were influenced by Slayer, the band actually accredited Venom, Exodus and Motörhead.
Chuck Schuldiner is widely accredited as the "Father of death metal" when he, and his band, Death (originally called Mantas when it was formed in 1983) released their first commercial studio album, "Scream Bloody Gore", in 1987 after years of having their demos circulate through the underground tape trader world. The album hit the heavy metal world by surprise and is often cited as the point where thrash evolved into death. It is one of the few instances where evolution has no 'missing links'. San Francisco Chronicle called it, "the first true death metal record".
Death metal vocals are referred to as death growls (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). High-pitched screaming is also often utilized in death metal.
The lyrical themes of death metal often sound like audio versions of slasher films; especially violent with plenty of blood, death and horror violence. Some acts use Satanism, religion, occultism, Lovecraftian horror, nature, mysticism, philosophy, science fiction and politics. The horror violence lyrics go further than that featured in other genres by depicting the details of the extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism and necrophilia.
The instrumentation of a death metal songs is normally two guitarists, a bass player, a vocalist and a drummer. Although this is the standard setup, bands have been known to occasionally incorporate other instruments such as electronic keyboards.
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