World of Metal Wiki
Death metal
Genre Info
Stylistic OriginsThrash metal
Biker metal
Extreme metal
Cultural Origins Early-Mid 1980s United States, Germany
Typical Instrumentsvocalsguitarbass guitardrums
Mainstream PopularityUnderground in mid 1980s, growth in late 1980s and early 1990s.
Derivative Forms'
Melodic death metalProgressive death metalTechnical death metalBrutal death metal - Slam death metal
Fusion Genres
DeathgrindDeath/doomDeathcoreBlackened death metal - Death 'n' Roll
Death metal

Death metal

Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It is characterized by using guttural voices, guitars with excessive use of overdrive, low tunings for its instruments, fast percussion (with a dominant use of the double pedal), complex musical structures, as well as unorthodox techniques for the composition of guitar riffs. . The theme of death metal covers topics such as horror stories, religion, philosophy, serial killers, cannibalism, torture, among others. On the other hand, it is influenced by the physical and moral problems of man: death, war, society, enlightenment, philosophy and others. Typically, a death metal band is made up of a vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, i.e. the standard heavy metal lineup. Among its main exponents1 are groups such as Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary or Morbid Angel.

The specific traits of death metal generally date back to the mid-1980s from the heavy metal of the 1970s, always characterized by having rhythmic elements coming from biker metal, when several bands began to incorporate the aggressive hard sound of thrash metal. , when death metal developed strongly towards the very specific and very dark rhythm of extreme metal, with the raw sound of hardcore punk. This genre is strongly much heavier compared to its relative, thrash metal.

Building off the speed and complexity ofThrash metal, and the raw extremities defined in Biker metal and Extreme metal. Death metal came to prominence by the mid 1980s. Bands like Slayer, Possessed and pioneer death metal bands such as Death and Morbid Angel are considered prime influences in the genre.[1] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Death metal gained more media attention as popular record labels such as Earache Records and Roadrunner Records, began signing Death metal bands at a rapid rate.[2] Since then, Death metal has diversified, spawning a rich variety of subgenres.[3][4]

Death metal has been met with considerable hostility from mainstream culture, mainly because of the violent themes, imagery and stage personae surrounding many bands.[5] 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 very bad thing heavy metal

A guitar of the true brutal death metal

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.[6] 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.

Death metal is known for its abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, as well as extremely fast and complex guitar and drumwork.[7] 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.[8] 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 movie violence,[9] but may also extend to contain themes of Satanism, Occultism, mysticism, and/or social commentary.[10] 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.[11] 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. 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.

Origin of the term[]

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".[12] Others contest that Death is not the origin, but that the harsh vocals and morbid lyrical content generally inspired the genre, regardless.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] A demo released by Death in 1984 is called Death by Metal.[16]

Early history (up to 1991)[]

The history of death metal begins in the early 1980's. A style emerged that was between death metal, black metal and thrash metal. European bands like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and bands from the Americas like Possessed, Slayer and Sepultura formed the basis of this extreme heavy metal style. From these founding acts styles diversified into death and black metal.[17]

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.[18] Their dark, blistering sound, harsh vocals and macabre, proudly satanic image proved a major inspiration for extreme metal bands.[19] 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.[20] Slayer is regarded as one of the most sinister thrash metal bands from the early 1980's[21] and are considered the direct responsible for the rise of death metal[22][23].Their breakneck speed and instrumental prowess combined with lyrics about death, war and Satanism won Slayer a rabid cult following.[24] Possessed, a band that formed in 1983, was heavily influenced by early Slayer.[25] Although Possessed's brand of metal resembled Slayer's fast and Satanic thrash metal they're often cited as the first death metal band.[26][27][28] This is largely because of the grunted vocals which set the stage for death metal's breakaway from thrash metal.[25] 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. Kam Lee's vocals would influence the death metal scene tremendously, for their low and guttural nature would become the staple of the genre. The line-up of Death would change considerably and guitarist Chuck Schuldiner would adopt vocal duties. Death, however, had already made a major impact. Fast, dark riffs and fierce solos were complimented with fast drumming, creating a style that would catch on in tape trading circles.[29]

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.[30] Hellhammer have released demos as early as 1982. In 1984 they were featured on the split album Death Metal.[31]

As heavy bands like Slayer, Death and Possessed paved the road to 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.[32][33][34] 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.

In 1986 Slayer released their third album Reign in Blood. This album was an influence on death metal bands like Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel.[20]

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.[35] Music writer Ed Rivadavia has stated that Possessed released what is arguably the first death metal album[36] whereas Death's Chuck Schuldiner is recognized as the father of death metal.[37]

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, and Grave.

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.[38] 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,[39] 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)[]

Death metal's popularity achieved its peak between the 1992-93 era, with some bands such as Morbid Angel, Carnifex 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 '90s, spawning a rich variety of subgenres, including the following. It should be noted that cited examples are not necessarily exclusive to one particular style.

Melodic death metal[]

Melodic death metal, sometimes referred to as "melodeath", is heavy metal 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 Dark Tranquillity, early In Flames, Arch Enemy, 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 death metal[]

Main article: Technical death metal

Technical death metal refers to bands that are particularly distinguished by the complexity of their music and the virtuosity of their musicians. Technical death metal is musically characterized by fast, chaotic, sometimes atonal riffs and atypical rhythms with varied or layered time signatures. It is a term commonly applied to such notable bands as Pestilence, Psycroptic, Cryptopsy, Decapitated, Gorguts, Necrophagist, Psychopatic Affiction, Origin, and Spawn of Possession.

Progressive death metal[]

Progressive death metal is a subgenre of death metal that incorporates characteristics such as time signature and mood changes from progressive metal. The overlapping of genres is quite common, and jazz is a common influence. The genre typically showcases death metal growls, blastbeats, chaotic alternating rhythms of progressive metal, and acoustic parts. Gorguts are an example of a band noted for creating jazz-influenced death metal on their album Obscura, along with Spheres by Pestilence. Additionally, Cynic, Edge of Sanity, Opeth, Between The Buried and Me, Sadist, and Atheist are seen as progressive death metal. This and technical death metal are closely associated, sharing many of the same traits and often overlapping, but have different emphasis as descriptions[40].

Brutal death metal[]

Brutal death metal developed by combining certain aspects of the song structures of grindcore / goregrind with death metal but it should not be confused with deathgrind (grindcore that is very close in form to, and maintains the complexity of, death metal) because it has nothing to do with hardcore punk. The bands in this genre are often categorized as technical death metal, and as of now there is a sizable overlap between the two genres, with the boundary in many cases being negligible. Brutal death metal is associated with bands like Deeds of Flesh, Disgorge, Nile, Sect of Execration, Sarcolytic, Benighted Images of Violence, Aborted, Disinterment and Suffocation. The death grunts are very low-pitched and the lyrics are often, but not always gore related. In addition, the guitar riffs are usually slow chunky grooves or hyper fast and down-tuned, often with pinched harmonics. Typically, if guitar solos are played, they usually make large use of tremolo picking, varied arpeggios, and wailing harmonics. The drumlines are usually highly varied in style, ranging from slow rhythms to churning blast beats.

Slam death metal[]

While similar to standard brutal death metal, slam death metal differs in the focus shifting away from speed and blast beats and more toward groovy "slamming" mid - paced riffs although blast beats are used sporadically. Vocals, generally, register no higher than the standard death growl and are usually much lower, often with a "gurgle"-type sound. Guitar tuning is usually dropped B or lower with frequent pinch harmonics and the prevalence of guitar solos many times sacrificed in favor of crunching riffs. Technicality is often used but is not mandatory, while melody, if present at all, is kept to an absolute minimum. Regionally, slam death metal has been predominately associated with the United States, and more specifically, New York and Texas. However, recently, the genre has spread world-wide. Slam death is considered a style of brutal death metal, meaning that it shares many characteristics with the former. This means that every slam band is brutal, but not all brutal bands are slam. Bands usually associated with slam death metal are Devourment, Dying Fetus, Internal Bleeding, Cock and Ball Torture and Soils of Fate.


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, Kolossus 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.

Blackened death metal[]

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. God Dethroned (Early), Behemoth, Belphegor, Vital Remains, Zyklon, and Sacramentum are examples. Rather than what the name implies, blackened death tends to be black metal played with the intensity and musicianship of death metal, often incorporating more complex and dynamic drumming, as well as lower tuned guitars that utilize the heavy and percussive nature of death metal guitar work.

Other fusion subgenres[]

There are other heavy metal 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. 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.

With the rise in popularity of metalcore, traits of modern hardcore punk have been utilized in death metal. Bands like Job for a Cowboy, Despised Icon and Bring Me the Horizon combine metalcore with death metal influences. Death metal characteristics such as fast and dynamic drumming (including blast beats), downtuned guitars, tremolo picking and growled vocals are combined with slower groovy riffs and breakdowns. This metalcore/death metal hybrid is sometimes referred to as deathcore.

It is also noteworthy that many bands can easily be placed in two or more of the preceding categories, and a band's specific categorization is often a source of contention due to personal opinion and interpretation.

Underground Death Metal[]

There are many popular death metal bands who play at large festivals! But for each popular death metal band, there are 100 not-popular bands. They are called 'underground' bands. Mostly they play local shows, because it is very difficult to become popular, because the mainstream society doesn't support them. Metal stays strong thanks to their fans and support! Motivation and support is very important to keep the metalscene alive and the young bands that play locals shows in front of 20 people now, are the festival headliners of the future...

See also[]


  1. 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"
  2. Is Metal Still Alive? WATT Magazine, Written by: Robert Heeg, Published: April 1993
  3. Silver Dragon Records "During the 1990s death metal diversified influencing many subgenres"
  4. "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"
  5. BBC News: "Investigating the 'death metal' murders"
  6. Audio Guitar Lessons, "How to Play Death Metal Guitar"
  7. "all the above characteristics are clearly present: abrupt tempo and count changes, on occasion extremely fast drumming, morbid lyrics and growling delivery"
  8. "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"
  9. Moynihan, Michael, and Dirik Søderlind (1998). Lords of Chaos (2nd ed.). Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-94-6, p. 27
  10. "However, few practise mysticism and most seem to use it solely as metaphorology for their works"
  11. * Khan-Harris, Keith. Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford: Berg, 2006. ISBN 9781845203993
  12. 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"
  13. 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"
  14. 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"
  15. 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."
  16. 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 1984."
  18. 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"
  19. 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"
  20. 20.0 20.1 Into The Lungs of Hell Metal Hammer magazine, Written by: Enrico de Paola, Translated by: Vincenzo Chioccarelli, Published: March 2000 ""
  21. Slayer band page @ Rockdetector
  22. Slayer on MTV
  23. Slayer on
  24. Slayer band page @ Allmusic
  25. 25.0 25.1 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"
  26. 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"
  27. 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.``"
  28. 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"
  29. Death band page
  30. 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"
  31. BNR Metal Hellhammer page "Regarded as an influential band in both the death and black black metal fields"
  32. Kreator - Pleasure To Kill review @ Metal Observer "But in Europe they had been the unrestricted rulers of the believers"
  33. Sodom - In The Sign Of Evil/Obsessed By Cruelty review @ Metal Observer "but the Underground loved them and SODOM reached a totally cult status!"
  34. 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."
  36. Possessed band page @ Allmusic
  37. Death band page @ Allmusic
  38. Empty Words, where there are dozens of reviews along this line
  39. 'Death Metal Special: Dealers in Death' Terrorizer #151


Template:Death metal subgenres