The Categorization of Death Metal

Written by: Insineratehymn
Published: 23.11.2005
The Categorization of Death Metal
Ethan "Insineratehymn" Mittel


Everyone on this site clearly knows that I am a huge death metal fan, and I am quite proud of being one as well. Today, I shall be speaking about death metal and the many wonders that it beholds. Even though death metal is almost unknown to the outside world (i.e. The mainstream), it is a large genre that has a great deal of ground for one to explore. There are even parts of death metal which still remain uncharted to this day. Music-wise, it is the most flexible of the metal genres. Not only can the music have an excessive amount of brutality, but it can also possess properties of technicality, complexity, melodicism, what-not, and still remain death metal. Other metal genres cannot do that. To put it in a way, death metal is just like water. It might seem ordinary to everyone on the outside, but it contains properties that other substances do not. Have you ever seen a progressive metal band use growling almost all the time? Have you seen a power metal band possess extreme brutality in their music? No. Didn't think so.

Characteristics of Death Metal:

Before I get down into the real beef of the genre, you must first learn what it is all about. Put simply, it is the conglomeration of deep growling, low-tuned, heavily distorted guitars, dark, heavy, bass, and intense, electrifying drumming. The lyrical content is the real attention getter in the creativity department. The topics may range any where from blood and gore to Satan to inner struggles to horror to philosophy. The musical structure may range from the simple and brutal to the intense and technical. The growls may range from the high and raspy to the gritty and guttural. One might even say that death metal is as diversified as the animal kingdom!

History of Death Metal:

And now, we will go on to the history of death metal. The genre itself has a deep and colorful background, and I cannot possibly get through the entire legacy of this wonderful genre in one day. Instead, I am just going to give you some of the detailed highlights, all of the important events that brought forth innovation, topics like that. Now sit back and let me take you on the journey through death metal.

The First Wave of Death Metal:


Death Metal can find its roots way back in the heavy metal hay day of the 1980's. (Take note that the first wave of death metal lasted from 1983-1990.) Influenced greatly by thrash metal bands such as Slayer and Kreator, death metal emerged when a few people scattered across the states took the fast, aggressive thrash metal sound, signature of Slayer and Kreator, and decided to pour on an extra supply of brutality. It is not known for certain which band invented death metal, but research and deduction have reduced the list down to three key bands: Florida's very own Death (Death was originally known as Mantas back when they formed), California-borne group Possessed, and the Illinois based band Master; all three bands formed back in 1983.

The sound attributed to those bands were blazingly fast drumming, mainly consisting of blast-beats, lightning quick riffing, and the le coup tre mas, low, raspy growls, combined with high, earsplitting screams. The lyrical content was essentially gore and Satan. Quite a few important events for death metal occurred in the 80s. Death eventually created the Florida Death Metal scene, leading on to influence two more innovative bands of the 80s, Morbid Angel and Obituary. Possessed helped establish Satanism as a major lyrical topic, and influenced the death metal bands of California. Master helped create the death metal scene in the North East (Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, etc).

Aside from the three main innovators (Death, Possessed, Master), there were also other very important death metal bands that arose in the 80s that would become very important later on. These include bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary, Deicide, and Cannibal Corpse. We will talk about those bands later on.

Musical Highlights:
1. Low, raspy growls with high-pitched screams
2. Distorted, low-tuned guitars
3. Dark, gritty bass
4. Fast, blast-beat drumming
5. Overall, the sound was closely related to its parent genre, "Thrash Metal"

Key Albums of the Era:
1. Death: "Scream Bloody Gore"
2. Possessed: "Seven Churches"
3. Master: "Master"
4. Obituary: "Slowly We Rot"
5. Morbid Angel: "Altars Of Madness"

The Second Wave of Death Metal:


The second era is where death metal really started to take off. Many events happened in this era; new important bands, changes in the sound, a wave of controversy spawning around the genre. In fact, so many events happened in this era, I am going to have to break it up by year. Do not be surprised if it changes subject quickly.

In 1990, Death released "Spiritual Healing", an album which was a bit of a departure from typical death metal lyrical matter. In this album, it focused more on social and philosophical issues rather than blood and gore, which was found in their first two albums. Deicide released their debut album, "Deicide". This album essentially took Satanism to a whole new extreme. This was not the cheesy kind of Satanism you find in Venom either. This was the serious Satanism. However, I might be over-exaggerating things, after all, I am a Deicide fan. Anyway, this album was a huge success in the underground, because it was both more catchy and more memorable than anything present at the time. Also released was Cannibal Corpse's debut, "Eaten Back To Life". This album brought forth a new style of growl called "The Cookie Monster" growl, which was used by the vocalist, Chris Barnes. This growling style portrayed a harsher and deeper voice, close to the equivalent of the Sesame Street character, the Cookie Monster, and because this vocal style had a much more aggressive and demonic sound than the raspy growls, the words, when spoken, became less decipherable. This style would later go on to become the most recognizable attribute when death metal would be brought up in casual conversation.

Now moving on to 1991. This year saw the rise of brutal death metal, played by two main innovators of the genre, Suffocation and Immolation. This genre was characterized by ultra-heavy and low growling, close to the point of loud grumbling, greater emphasis on the bass, lower tuned guitars, and much more frequent use of the bass drum. This genre, although seeming very simple, takes a great deal of technical flair and musicianship in order to perform. The two brutal death metal albums released in this time were Suffocation's "Effigy Of The Forgotten" and Immolation's "Dawn Of Possession".

We now move on to 1992. This is where death metal started to gain commercial success. It started of with Obituary's masterpiece, "The End Complete". This album eventually sold 250,000 copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful death metal albums of all time. There were several factors contributing to this. First off, was the label. Obituary was signed to the large label and former death metal powerhouse, Roadrunner Records. They had the funds to produce many copies and be able to send them to distributors. Next, was their large fan base. The band already had a rabid fan base when the album came out. Third was the fact that in the same year, they toured with another famous death metal band, Cannibal Corpse. Another successful album released that year was Deicide's "Legion". It was successful because it was also released on Roadrunner Records and was widely distributed around the world.

The most innovative album of that year, however, came in the form of Fear Factory's "Soul Of A New Machine". This release was the very first death metal album to feature clean vocals, a move that was once considered forbidden long ago. This would soon lead the way for many more death metal bands who would innovate the genre to the fullest.

Now moving on to 1993. The most noticeable event of this year is the release of Morbid Angel's "Covenant". This album was an important release because it was the very first death metal album released on a major label, making Morbid Angel the very first death metal band signed to a major label. The label they signed to was called Giant Records. Although it does not sound like a major label, they are a subsidiary of Warner Brother Records, making them indirectly linked to one of the largest record labels in the world.

Well, time to kick it into gear. In 1994, Cannibal Corpse released "The Bleeding", their last recording with original vocalist Chris Barnes. Cryptopsy released "None So Vile", one of the best brutal death metal albums to be released by a Canadian band. In 1995, Suffocation released "Pierced From Within", which instantly became a brutal death metal classic.

Blazing over to the year 1998, we find Florida death metal pioneers with the release of their last album, "The Sound Of Perseverance". This album shows Death in their most advanced form. With the release of this album, they sounded less like death metal and more like progressive metal. This album featured complex percussion work by the famous Richard Christy, incredible bass performances by Scott Clendenin, and deep, intricate guitar play by both Shannon Hamm and Chuck Schuldiner. This was an album which truly redefined an entire genre. Aside from "The Sound Of Perseverance", there were several other important releases as well. Exhumed released their genre defining debut album, "Gore Metal". A derivative of death metal, Gore Metal features a more melodic sound with catchy riffs and often involves three distinct vocalists, sort of like old Carcass. This album would soon go on to inspire thousands of clone bands who would play the same type of music. Anyway, this era is so expansive, I cannot go on all day to describe everything that happened, so I will stop here.

Musical Highlights:
1. The rise of brutal death metal
2. The development of a more progressive kind of death metal
3. The spawning of Gore Metal

Key Albums of the Era:
1. Death: "The Sound Of Perseverance"
2. Morbid Angel: "Covenant"
3. Deicide: "Legion"
4. Cannibal Corpse: "Eaten Back To Life"
5. Suffocation: "Pierced From Within"
6. Immolation: "Dawn Of Possession"
7. Exhumed: "Gore Metal"

The Third Wave of Death Metal:


This is the latest wave of death metal. In this era, we see death metal regaining popularity throughout the world (considering Grunge is dead, hahaha). We see new ideas cropping through the underground and new bands taking steps towards new realms. The first major release of this era is Morbid Angel's "Gateways to Annihilation", released in 2000. This album follows the same progressive death metal influence that was created by Death. Another album released that year was Deicide's "Insineratehymn". This was their album which reinvigorated the Deicide influence.

Tragedy befell the entire death metal community in 2001, as death metal pioneer Chuck Schuldiner died of brain cancer. The community was grieve-stricken as they had now lost one of the greatest mind of the entire genre. Moving on to 2002, we find more gore metal spreading across the land, as gore metal band Impaled released their collaboration of innovation, "Mondo Medicale". Greatly influenced by Carcass, they built upon the gore metal genre with melody and excellent musicianship. The genre was built upon even more in 2003, when Exhumed released "Anatomy Is Destiny". This album featured obligatory riffs, greater focus on skill, and Swedish death metal influence. In fact, we are living in the third era of death metal right now, and it is currently changing. To find out what else it will bring us, we will just have to wait.


As this report comes to a close, we must remember that death metal is continually evolving at an accelerating pace, and will keep changing as time passes. Five years from now, the information in this report will become obsolete! Also, if you see anything wrong with this report, such as missing information or important events have been left out, then that is my fault, and I sincerely apologize. However, I should not be worried, because everyone thinks differently, and I wrote this report not as some sort of requirement, but for people who would like to read up on the genre, and have information to live off of in the future.

This report has been brought to you by Metal Storm's very own think-tank, Insineratehymn.

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


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Drizzling Blur - 06.08.2006 at 19:36  
Insineratehymn, thank you so much, its made a wonderful read with lots of information. Id really appreciate if you could write a more detailed article about Death Metal and its Sub Genre's when u said Categorisation, that is what i thought of.

Thanks again, good article.
Lucas - 06.08.2006 at 21:07  
Where is the entire Swedish Old School scene? I hear not a word about Entombed, Grave.. also Prog/Death'ers Pestilence are not mentioned..
Insineratehymn - 06.08.2006 at 21:57  
Written by Lucas on 06.08.2006 at 21:07

Where is the entire Swedish Old School scene? I hear not a word about Entombed, Grave.. also Prog/Death'ers Pestilence are not mentioned..

Yeah, the thing is I wrote this article in a hurry back in '05 and I needed to get it done before Thanksgiving. This is why there is some information missing. However, I am writing a new article over avant garde metal. It will talk about important people of the genre like Mike Patton and Tom Warrior, and important bands like !T.O.O.H.! and Sigh. It will be titled "The Avant Garde And How to Swing It"(trademark).
Lucas - 06.08.2006 at 22:02  
Hmm, ok then. You better not forget them next time.
Dam3k - 25.08.2006 at 21:47  
Hehe, other metal genres can't be technically, melodic, and agressive at the same time?? lol... there isn't need a growls vocals to be agressive...
BitterCOld - 30.08.2006 at 01:49  
Written by Lucas on 06.08.2006 at 21:07

Where is the entire Swedish Old School scene? I hear not a word about Entombed, Grave.. also Prog/Death'ers Pestilence are not mentioned..

Perhaps the schoolwork paper should have been refined for publishing on a primarily metal site... or at least re-titled to reflect the US-centric approach to the history of the genre.

In addition to the Swedes, England had perhaps the biggest role in the explosion of Death Metal.

Grindcore bands had cult followings (and traded tapes with DM bands in other countries, developing simulataneously)... and while Napalm Death might have initially been a grindcore band, their appearance on John Peel's radio show on BBC1 gave extreme metal an unprecedented amount of publicity.

The successful sales figures of the Earache stable prompted the initial push by major labels to sign death metal bands hoping to find the next big thing (Godflesh was actually the most covetted act, as execs thought they might be 'the next' Nine Inch Nails)... the industry hadn't realized that DM had reached it's peak plateau - as a fringe genre, it was never going to appeal to mass audiences and was never going to hit the figures they had hoped, so they abandoned it.

(Other fault lies in dumping a whole slew of artists albums all out at once, rather than staggering them and spending time to promote them separately.)

This still lead to the occasional appearance on Headbanger Ball, where then-host Riki Rachtman argued repeatedly wtih execs to include more of the extreme stuff and less of the hair crap.

If you haven't read "Choosing Death", I highly recommend it.

All in all it's a good primer piece for those new and oblivious to the genre, although I still think you should have been more specific and up front in stating the exclusive focus on the American scene.
Stigmatized - 19.09.2006 at 04:50  
Great article dude. I didn't even know about Master. But at least your article helped me to discover some new music.
Drizzling Blur - 05.11.2006 at 05:01  
Hehe, i just posted this, thought will help the other fans around here.
Deathbyfire135 - 20.11.2006 at 16:50  
Excellent article it was well worth my time and i must congratulate you on a most excellent article man sorry i had to talk like bill and ted for a minute
it was good i am also a deicide fan they are awesome
Long Live Death.
Doc Godin - 01.12.2006 at 01:49  
Written by Dam3k on 25.08.2006 at 21:47

Hehe, other metal genres can't be technically, melodic, and agressive at the same time?? lol... there isn't need a growls vocals to be agressive...

I agree, this article was pretty close minded.
Dam3k - 01.12.2006 at 16:49  
Written by Doc Godin on 01.12.2006 at 01:49

Written by Dam3k on 25.08.2006 at 21:47

Hehe, other metal genres can't be technically, melodic, and agressive at the same time?? lol... there isn't need a growls vocals to be agressive...

I agree, this article was pretty close minded.

Paganblood - 12.02.2007 at 12:55  
An excellent article !
But I don't think clean vocals(not the narrations) are for death metal because it doesn't suit the genre, and also, I think to maintain originality of death metal, a band shouldn't be too 'flexible'.
Eight - 13.02.2007 at 17:47  
Thanks for this article Insineratehymn was really interesting, as a shortcut to death history periods and again thanks for mentioning 'era key albums'
blackmagic567 - 17.03.2007 at 04:38  
a great article which shows exactly what death metals about and the key bands that shaped it
Martinikuss - 10.04.2007 at 14:10  
What about polish Vader (1983) and Behemtoh (1991) ??
Marcel Hubregtse - 11.04.2007 at 08:31  
Written by Martinikuss on 10.04.2007 at 14:10

What about polish Vader (1983) and Behemtoh (1991) ??

Vader first of all didn't start in 1983 but in 1986 and only released their debut in 1993. But have only recently become more or less slightly influential in the DM scene. At the start of their career they were just regarded as a wannabe Morbid Angel.

Okay Behemoth did start in 1991, but they started off as an outright black metal band and have only started to shift towards death metel with their 1999 Satanica release. But influential isn't a word I would use for behemoth either. Solide dm it is but that's about it.
Bad English - 23.10.2007 at 00:28  
Yes good job totaly agree but better change title to US DM because in Swe was DM too in UK too and some bands has been forgotten(like Nocturnus) and pesronaly i prefere something till 1993 leitehr no thanks not my type of music
astrozombie - 02.09.2008 at 07:52  
well thoughtout and i enjoyed it i learned alot and i give u much thanks.
Deadmeat - 02.04.2009 at 10:55  
Yeah this is a good article but it is too small to be a true categorization of DM. much more information is needed. but just because there are not many articles like that it's a good work..
Warman - 03.04.2009 at 02:34  
I love the first sentence: "Everyone on this site clearly knows that I am a huge death metal fan".
Ithyphallic - 25.01.2010 at 20:25  
Nice statement dude , excellent and perfect , but you should mention great bands which its new bands like Nile - Grave - Zyklon , especially these bands has its own taste in death metal , which gonna support this glorious genre , and make it more supreme , again nice statement Insineratehymn
*Keep Fucking Support The Metal !
Mikyz - 26.01.2010 at 12:03  
Also, you didn't mention Dismember - The Ever Flowing Stream in 1991, it's pretty much a classic and one of my favorite death metal releases :/ Thus, you overlooked the Swedish Death metal Scene
The article is very well written though
MarkPrice - 23.09.2014 at 10:03  
You seem to have omitted Necrophagia from the first wave...they were another important band along with the first 3 you mentioned they were also formed in 1983 and were releasing demos as early as 84 ...also their first album "Season of the Dead" came out before Death - Scream Bloody Gore
metalfan1999 - 23.07.2015 at 16:00  
Uhm none so vile was released 1996

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