While most people associate death metal music with a bunch of guys screaming and creating random noise, there’s a multitude of reasons why this genre maintains a strong following and earns the fierce loyalty of many listeners worldwide. Here’s why.
Take a moment and really listen to what’s going on. Death metal is more than crunching guitars and harsh vocals. Although the rough guitar sound and guttural vocals are important, the music contains melodies, harmonies, patterns, and complex time signatures, as well. The initial blast of death metal can take a little getting used to (especially if your ears are accustomed to softer sounds), but if you listen closely you’ll start to appreciate the quality of the musicianship.
Give credit where credit is due: playing and singing death metal isn’t easy. While someone with a very basic musical background could probably learn a pop or rock song in a short period of time, that same person would take much longer to learn a death metal song. The songs demand expert improvisational skills and are often highly orchestrated. In this way death metal is comparable to jazz or classical music.
- For fans of percussion, note how death metal drumming is extremely technical and precise. It takes many years for these drummers to obtain the skills necessary to play these complicated rhythm patterns at an often ridiculous speed. The majority of percussion in popular music (with the exception of jazz) is pretty simple, and often the percussion is sampled without a real musician. For anyone interested in talented musicians, both jazz and death metal offer excellent avenues to enjoy guitar and drum talent.
Remember that in death metal, unlike many other genres, each band almost always writes their own music. That includes the riffs, drums, solos, and lyrics. Writing your own music demonstrates another dimension of instrumental mastery and talent, as well as making the music more personal and less manufactured.
Listen to the Lyrics
Don’t take the context and subject matter personally. Death metal lyrics often push the boundaries of polite discourse, and they aren’t intended to be taken literally. The words tend to document the outer extremes of human experience which other genres don’t dare touch, such as the motivations of serial killers, isolation, the activities of the walking dead, and death itself.
- Keep in mind that some death metal lyrics, especially the gore and brutal varieties, often, but not always, elaborate on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, rape and necrophilia. If you are concerned about this sort of content, we recommend doing a little bit of research before buying the music. Online sites, consumer guides, music samples, and music magazines will give you a good idea about how gory the songs will be.
- Don’t dismiss the music solely on the lyrical content. Many music stores (online and storefront) provide free 30-second sound clips that can demonstrate the groove of a song. If the musical content sparks your interest, perhaps the lyrics can be taken more lightly.
- Look up the lyrics. A common misconception is that all heavy metal bands write lyrics that are vulgar and contain lots of bad language. There are numerous online sites that contain a library of song lyrics. Poke around. The more you learn and the more you listen, the more you’ll discover how diverse and intelligent the lyrics can be.
Expose Yourself to Sub-genres
Learn about the sub-genres. Not all death metal is the same. The genre contains many sub-genres that can frequently mix and intermingle with each other. As a result, it may be difficult to file a band under a single sub-genre. Here’s a general guideline to get you started:
- Blackened (which adopts thematic and musical elements of black metal): Akercocke, Behemoth, Belphegor, Dissection, God Dethroned, Firdous Angelcorpse, Sacramentum, Zyklon, Crimson Thorn, and many others.
- Brutal: Aborted (earlier work), Cannibal Corpse, Cryptopsy, Blood Red Throne, Deeds of Flesh, Degrade, Deranged, Disavowed, Disgorge, Guttural Secrete, Hate Eternal, Immolation, Internal Suffering, Krisiun, Origin, Skinless,Death,Spawn of Possession, Suffocation, The Genocide Architect, Wormed, and many others.
- Death/Doom (slow tempos, melancholic atmosphere, deep growling vocals double-kick drumming): Anathema (earlier work), Asphyx, Autopsy, Disembowelment, Swallow the Sun, and Winter.
- Goregrind/Deathgrind (intense, brief, rare guitar solos, more prominent shrieked vocals): Carcass (earlier work), Terminally Your Aborted Ghost, Anal Bleeding, Guttural Engorgement, and XXX Maniak.
- Melodic (Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and melodies with typically higher-pitched growls): Children Of Bodom (earlier work), Aborted (later work), Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, At Odds with God, At the Gates, Carcass (later work), Dark Tranquillity, Desultory, Dethklok, Disarmonia Mundi, Hilastherion, Hypocrisy, Immortal Souls, Kalmah, Norther, Souls, In Flames (earlier work), Sacrilege, Wintersun, Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Noumena, Rapture, and Daylight Dies.
- Symphonic: Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Nightfall, and Septic Flesh
- Technical/Progressive (dynamic song structures, uncommon time signatures, atypical rhythms and unusual harmonies and melodies): Amoral (earlier work), Beneath The Massacre, Brain Drill, Cryptopsy, Cynic, Death, Decapitated, Gorguts, Immolation, Necrophagist, Nile, Ominous, Origin, Pestilence, Psycroptic, Sleep terror, Spawn of Possession, The Faceless, Visceral Bleeding, Veil Of Maya, Meshuggah, and PsyOpus.
Go to a Concert
Watch a live death metal performance. Observe how the group members manipulate their respective instruments. It can be quite an experience, especially since the shows are often in smaller venues and you can walk near or behind the stage to observe the musicians up close. If you’ve ever tried to play those instruments yourself, you’ll probably be amazed at how skillfully they play. It takes years of practice and dedication to reach that level of musicianship, which challenges the stereotype of metal heads being lazy stoners. You might also be surprised at how energetic these performers are.
- Keep in mind that all genres and sub-genres are under heated debate, so do not adhere to a single definition too seriously.
- Many excellent death metal bands never had a big record company behind them to support and promote their music. They are hidden treasures. Look around and discover what’s mostly ignored.
- Despite its name, death metal is not a good approach to understanding death.