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An essay on Death Metal and Grindcore
Death Metal and Grindcore

Death Metal and Grindcore are two genres of Metal that sound very similar but have different origins. Death Metal emerged from Thrash Metal, taking the extreme take on Thrash of bands such as California’s Slayer and Germany’s Kreator and giving it extra brutality and speed. Grindcore however emerged from Hardcore Punk, especially the most brutal and thrashy forms of Punk such as D-Punk (Punk influenced by Discharge) and crust-punk. Like Death Metal, Grindcore took the attitude of its precursors and increased the brutality and speed. Both styles include blast beats, the ‘death grunt’ or ‘cookie monster’ vocal style, double bass drum kicks, an intense growling guitar sound and an emphasis on pure brutality and speed. The differences are that Grindcore concentrates on political or satirical lyrics, has short micro-songs (often only seconds long) and an absence of guitar solos, whereas Death Metal has gory or satanic lyrics, five minutes or longer songs with tempo changes and experimental song structure and plenty of lead guitar fills to add atmosphere and a thrash metal influenced emphasis on musicianship.

Although there are other bands, to most people Grindcore pretty much consists of one band, Napalm Death. Their first two albums Scum (1987) and From Enslavement to Obliteration (1988) are the definitive texts of the Grindcore style. Spinoff band Carcass also started as Grindcore with early releases such as Reek of Putrefaction (1988) and Symphonies of Sickness (1989) but soon became a Death Metal act with Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious (1992) and the melodic Death Metal release Heartwork (1994). Carcass’s ‘gimmick’ if you like was that their lyrics consisted almost entirely of long, technical words obtained from medical journals, describing in detail and medical accuracy the gory subject matter of the songs.

Death Metal began at pretty much the same time as Grindcore, with Possessed Seven Churches (1985) and Death Scream Bloody Gore (1987). Death came from Florida and it was the Florida scene that marked the beginnings of the Death Metal genre. Death’s second release Leprosy (1988) was even more popular and important than the first but after cementing Death Metal’s basic style, Death then went on to become ever more progressive in style. Starting with Spiritual Healing (1989), which took the basic Death Metal sound and simply added more intelligent and politically astute lyrics, Death took us on a fascinating journey into Progressive Death Metal, starting with Human (1991). Other massively influential Florida Death Metal bands were Obituary and Morbid Angel. Obituary’s Slowly We Rot (1989) debut featured their customary down tuned guitar sound and particularly guttural vocals but it was their second album Cause of Death (1990), featuring guitarist James Murphy (who had played on Death’s Spiritual Healing album) that really put them on the map. Third album The End Complete (1992) was also popular with fans but soon afterwards they began to fade from view. In more recent years however, Obituary has made a comeback with new classics such as Frozen in Time (2005). Morbid Angel may be Death Metal’s most consistent band. Early classics are Altars of Madness (1989) and Blessed are the Sick (1991), the former concentrating on pure speed and aggression but the second one adding slower, doomier elements, much like Obituary tend to do. Covenant (1993) meanwhile proved to be a compromise of sorts between the two approaches. Morbid Angel’s lyrics focused on blasphemous and satanic themes at first but the band are actually highly philosophical and spiritual and their lyrics have progressed over the years to more pagan themes, including a fascination with Ancient Rome. Another important Florida band is Deicide. Deicide embraced a form of Satanism, whether seriously believed or simply a shock tactic is still debatable. Their unoriginal but consistent form of satanic Death Metal has led to significant albums such as Deicide (1990), Legion (1992), Once Upon the Cross (1995) and Serpents of the Light (1997). Vocalist Glen Benton’s uncompromising attitude (he branded an inverted cross into his forehead) has also seen him become something of an influence on the Black Metal scene.

In fact Blackened Death Metal is one of many offshoots of the original Death Metal sound. Bands such as Incantation mix elements of Black Metal in with the Death Metal sound. Other bands such as New York’s Cannibal Corpse and Immolation are known as Brutal Death Metal, adopting a particularly brutal form of Death Metal, with significantly lower pitched death grunts and even more emphasis on blast beats in the drumming. Cannibal Corpse are notorious for the extreme gore of their lyrics and album covers, albums such as Butchered at Birth (1991) and Tomb of the Mutilated (1992) being particularly notorious. Immolation meanwhile focus on anti-Christian themes, important albums including Failure for Gods (1999), Close to a World Below (2000) and Unholy Cult (2002).

Technical or Progressive Death Metal is another direction Death Metal has taken, focusing on progressive experimentation and the technicality of the lead guitar work. Death’s increasing progressive direction has already been mentioned but another artist of significance in Technical Death Metal is Atheist.

But it is the Swedish Death Metal scene that is particularly important in later Death Metal. Entombed started off the Swedish Death Metal scene with the very impressive albums Left Hand Path (1990) and Clandestine (1991). Later efforts however compromised their sound, creating a blend of Death Metal and Stooges-style Punk, labelled by the band as Death ‘n’ Roll, beginning with Wolverine Blues in 1993. Dismember were another early Swedish Death Metal band and they stuck to the original Death Metal style, not just on early works such as Like an Ever Flowing Stream (1991) and Indecent and Obscene (1993) but also on later albums such as Where the Iron Crosses Grow (2004) and The God That Never Was (2006). But it was Melodic Death Metal that really put Sweden on the map. Taking inspiration from Entombed’s Clandestine album, often considered along with Carcass’s Heartwork to be the first Melodic Death Metal album, new bands such as At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames created a new style of Death Metal, dubbed ‘Gothenburg’ Death Metal after the region of Sweden from which it hails but also widely known as Melodic Death Metal. The style mixes raw Death Metal with Iron Maiden inspired guitar melodies. Important albums in the style are At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul (1995) and Dark Tranquillity’s The Gallery (1995).
Two bands in more recent years have provided an interesting direction for Death Metal. One of these is Opeth. Opeth have taken Death Metal in a progressive direction, perhaps even more so than Death and Atheist. Opeth’s exciting style is particularly good on recent classic Blackwater Park (2001). Another particularly brutal but also highly technical Death Metal act called Nile creates albums inspired by Ancient Egypt, mixing the Death Metal with elements of Middle Eastern music. This is very original and exciting, especially for those fascinated in equal parts by both Death Metal and Ancient Egypt. All Nile’s albums are worth checking out but perhaps especially In their Darkened Shrines (2002) and Annihilation of the Wicked (2005).

Death Metal is an old favourite for those who like their Metal brutal and extreme but very much in the realm of dark theatre rather than the genuinely worrying antics of the Black Metal acts. The production values are also better than Death Metal, which is agreeable to many. If you want no nonsense, fast, hard and dark metal, the type that scares your mother but is actually simply a bit of dark, aggressive fun then Death Metal is probably what you’re looking for. It’s not simply an adjunct to Thrash Metal or a precursor to Black Metal it is a wonderful genre in its own right, full of thrills and spills and that lovely, thick and heavy guitar sound that it shares with Doom Metal, but with the energy that Doom lacks. The best stuff might be the early Florida stuff but Death Metal has continued to progress and develop over time and probably will continue to do so for many years to come.
Does not matter how technically perfect these musicians are, I for one will never be found listening to this stuff. The guitarists might be able to play 50 million notes a second but they do nothing for me at all. They all sound the same to me. And the drummers are all totally predictable. No creativity in their playing at all. The spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves.
Without loyalty to tribe, church, flag or ideal, there would be no wars - Arthur Koestler

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