Melodic Death Metal Classification
Melodic death metal is one of the most debated genres in metal. Arguments between metalheads still happen when it comes to what bands are part of it, why it is death metal, is it extreme metal or not. There is a problem with these arguments that melodic death metal itself is never defined. In order for these bands to be properly classed as melodic death metal bands, first it should be defined what melodic death metal is.
Melodic death metal is always debated on the validity of the death metal title. Some will say that melodic death metal and death metal are nothing alike. Others say that melodic death metal is exactly what it says it is, death metal with melody. Different bands can prove both of these statements true. The most popular form of melodic death metal is the Gothenburg bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, and others. First we should take a look at what is similar about these bands. In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and At The Gates were all formed in the late '80s and early '90s under different names. Dark Tranquillity originated as Septic Broiler, At The Gates was fusion featuring some members of Grotesque, Tomas Lindberg being the most famous, and the famed Bjorler brothers who eventually became the masterminds behind the project. Grotesque represents one of the earliest and most extreme elements of this genre. Grotesque were known around Sweden as a new death metal bands with the evil KVLTist Black Metal Culture. The typical Black Metal theatrics gave Grotesque the pleasure of being kicked off multiple bar stages. Grotesque also exhibits the death metal elements to warrant the title melodic death metal. Ceremonial Oath featured future In Flames mastermind Jesper Stromblad who at the time was connected to Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates) and guitarist Oscar Dronjak (later Hammerfall). Ceremonial was more demonstrative of the controlled tempo and melodic interludes seen in bands today like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Ceremonial Oath later acquired future In Flames vocalist Anders Frieden, and the extreme metal and death metal titles were not justified for this band.
How did all the bands originally coming out of this area (Gothenburg) and their predecessors Soilwork, Gardenian, and the later Finnish wave featuring Children Of Bodom, Norther, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, and others manage to keep a death metal title in their name. The death metal title is not as much a classification of music as it is of geography and comparison. Around this same time Stockholm's death metal scene was currently growing with bands such as Nihilsit, later Entombed, Therion, and Tiamat had been formed. Gothenburg's style of metal was considered to be a rival form of "death metal" to most Swedish metalheads.
Now that the history of this genre is clearer what is melodic death metal musically? Melodic death metal is a genre that has grown more international throughout the years. Suceeding the waves of Gothenburg melodic death metal came the Finnish wave. This consisted of the bands I said earlier (Children Of Bodom, Norther, Eternal Tears of Sorrow), and featured a different influence from the Swedish waves. The Finns kept the dual guitar attack which was less brutal and more melodic from most Swedish bands, and put more of what is considered today as a power metal style of play. The Finns also used the screaming style of vocals perfected by Mikael Stanne, Tomas Lindberg, and company, but with a more clear tone and slightly higher in pitch. These things alone sound allow for the classification as melodic death metal bands. The addition of keyboards allows for the power metal comparison. Furthermore in continuing to compare these bands to power metal bands, the list of similarities grows slim. The vocal styles in the two genres are different, which alone cannot prevent a band from a genre, but let's search more. The bands which were considered to be the primary wave of power metal bands from Germany had an entirely different riffing style as well, as these power metal bands (Running Wild, Eduy, Early Blind Guardian, and etc) were much more influenced by heavy metal bands and NWoBHM bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Tank. This Finnish wave could be considered a genre all on it's own, but it borrows so much from melodic death metal and power metal that either classification can be argued as well.
There is yet another wave of melodic death metal, and this one is the black sheep of the family coming from the United States. These bands are considred to be metalcore, post-thrash, as well as other names. These bands are mostly the new Massachusetts youths like Shadow's Fall, Killswitch Engage, and more western bands like Trivium. These bands share much in common with the Gothenburg bands. Most of the musicians in this genre actually idolize the likes of Stromblad and In Flames and Bjorler of At The Gates. The melodic approach is easily seen in bands like Shadows Fall and Unearth and there are also bands with more thrash elements like Lamb Of God. The tonality there is similar to Gothenburg bands as well. Darkest Hour even had gone to Fredrick Nordstrom (feat. In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Opeth) to record their albums. The similarity does not end there either while Peter Wichers of Soilwork soared over the top of an instrumental epic.
With the different elements and waves of melodic death metal established it is possible to define what it really is. In each wave we have thrashy elements displayed in bands like At The Gates, Lamb Of God, and Soilwork. We have power metal influences in bands like Children Of Bodom, Norther, and in Swedish bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. We have the death metal element in the history and the previously undisguised bands like Arsis, Arghoslent, Vehemence, and Garden Of Shadows who exhibited more of a death metal element to their music. This leaves me to belive that with the wide influence in melodic death metal bands that melodic death metal is a fusion of all thrash, power, and death metal genres. The classification for this genre is only as wide as it's influence.