So let’s get right to one of the first obstacles in understanding or accepting this style of music: the band names! Dying Fetus? Cattle Decapitation? Cannibal Corpse? These are extremely violent sounding and possibly offensive! I remember ordering coffee and noticing that the barista gave me a strange look, and I couldn't think of what I had done to get that look. It’s not until i sat back with my friends and glanced down i had realized that i was wearing a Dying Fetus shirt. I figured she got freaked out by the name. I get it, some of the names are very off putting, but the lyrical topic is mostly violent and aggressive. It wouldn’t seem fitting to sing (i use that term loosely here) about hordes of zombies devouring people and have a name like Metallica or Testament. So the band names follow suit. Why? Just like film has many genres of movies, Horror being one of the most popular (and profitable), so to are there many genres in music. I feel like death metal is the horror movie equivalent of music styles. Now because this music is so extreme in its imagery and sound, it is NOT mainstream at all. So most music listeners are simply not aware of this style or these bands, and therefore not used to it in any way. It took my wife a surprisingly short amount of time to accept and get used to this music and even wears some of my most extreme t-shirts around the house without a second thought! Because this style of music exists in the underground, it must be sought out to be listened to.
Ok you’ve rolled your eyes at the band name, album and song titles and now you press play, what do you hear? While this is an admitted generalization because most notable bands have their own distinct flavor of death metal but there are certain sonic signatures that most bands exhibit. The vocals are one of the aspects which can be a the most instantly shocking or off putting. The vocalists in this style of music adopt what are referred to as guttural growls alongside middle to high pitched shrieks. It’s not easy to decipher what the vocalist is saying, and they ARE saying something! The overall instrumentation is usually pushed to the extreme of speed, intensity and complexity. Not every band pushes these limits, some prefer to be more straight forward and have a sound akin to classic thrash on steroids. For those that do choose to push the technicality of their musicianship they do this by playing at higher BPMs (into the 250’s! Or higher!) which utilizes double bass drumming and almost jazz style cymbal work while throwing in breakneck drum fills and rolls. The main drumming characteristic in this style is what is called the Blast Beat. It sounds very much like a machine gun blast, and even with this technique there are many variations. This style of drumming is not for the lazy musician. The guitars and bass work is equally demanding. The riffs usually employ complex chord changing, combined with fast tremolo picked lines that can be embellished by any combination of guitar playing acrobatics from string skipping and legato to sweep arpeggios and double handed tapping just to name a few. All this while stopping instantly or changing tempo or time signature at the drop of a dime. This music has evolved into one of the most technically demanding musical styles which requires advanced and experienced musicians to play and push it further.
So how did I get into this style of music? I’ll be honest. I did NOT like it when I was first exposed to it. Some of the first death metal I can remember listening to was Cannibal Corpse and I could not get over how low and crazy the vocals were. I loved that the instrumentation was a lower tuned, even more aggressive and intense version of the thrash metal I was already listening to like Slayer and Sepultura. I was completely overwhelmed and decided that it was just too over the top stuck to the metal I was currently hooked on. Over time friends would pass on CD’s that I’d rip to my computer and gladly add to my music collection because I was (and still am) a music hoarder. Eventually I found my teenage self angry at the world and went to my room to blow off some steam and just hit random on my computer which went through my entire collection at the time and the first song that started blasting was a Dying Fetus track off of their Purification Through Violence album. I was too angry to get up and change it so I just listened to the whole song. I don’t exactly remember what song it was but in that moment, something clicked. I connected to the aggression and ferocity of the vocals and instruments. All of a sudden what seemed like too intense became the perfect representation of my anger and frustration.
I have been a fan of this style of metal ever since and have been to many shows around Texas to see some of my favorite death metal bands. So if any of this sounded interesting enough for you to feel like you’d like to check it out I thought about creating a quick jump in list for songs that will give you a sufficient glimpse into this extreme metal music. Warning: the music I’m about to recommend is intense, fast, bludgeoning, and very likely to scare anyone in earshot while you are listening to it. This is a list of just some of my favorite songs and there’s so much more by these bands and many more that are equally awesome! You have been warned…
- Flattening of Emotions- Death
- Hammer Smashed Face- Cannibal Corpse
- Chopped in Half- Obituary
- Pierced from Within- Suffocation
- Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses)-Dying Fetus
- Diminishing Between Worlds- Decrepit Birth
- Dechristianize -Vital Remains
- Spheres of Madness-Decapitated
- Hammer Forged Blade- Deeds of Flesh
- Expulsion of Fury-Origin