Death Metal Subgenres

I've had this book on my to read list for months. Now, finally, I got a good reason to read at least some of it so I thought I might as well make notes about it here, since the book is about HEAVY FUCKING METAL.

The book in question is Natalie J. Purcell's Death Metal Music - The Passion and Politics of a Subculture (2003). I found it at the university library months and months ago and borrowed it, I thought it would be a good way to learn more about death metal. With the assistance of interwebz for sound specimens, of course.
I have listened to random death metal bands from various subgenres for years, but  I have never really clearly "seen in my head" what death metal actually is and how it came into being. This is because I have begun my metal journey in the late 1990s - early 2000s and have more or less paid attention to current music. So, to me, probably the first instances where I have heard the concept death metal being used has been in melodeath, i.e. melodic death metal. Swedish bands mainly, like In Flames and Arch Enemy. So I never really realized where it all comes from. Thus, this little categorization that I have taken straight from Purcell's book should shed some light on the matter of death metal. To make it clear, I haven't included (almost any...) personal comments there or links or pictures or anything. Anyone who's interested probably is clever enough to copy and paste the band names onto Google or YouTube.

Ok, let's cut to the chase already.


Some general characteristics of death metal: complex, highly technical, low guttural vocals, double bass drumbeats (such as blast beats), brutality, chunky and rhythmic guitar riffs, general lack of overtly melodic elements.

It all began in the late 1980s, early 1990s in Florida and New York. The Florida and New York genres are the more prominent, "traditional" death metal subgenres from the early years.

1. Florida Death Metal

  • Guitars not tuned as low as in other genres but guitarwork is more tight, precise and clear.
  • Extremely fast, machine gun-like blast beats.
  • Distinguished death metal more clearly from thrash metal with a thicker, more brutal sound.
  • Vocal style often ferociously low and indecipherable (Chris Barnes, Glen Benton).
  • Producer who's often associated with the Florida style is Scott Burns - he's known for high quality production in his Morrisound recording studio.
  • Death, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Monstrosity, Malevolent Creation, Deicide, Obituary, Gorguts, Deeds of Flesh, Deranged, Severe Torture, Hate Eternal, Nile.

2. New York Death Metal I

  • Down-tuned, muscular (:D lol), palm-muted 'slam' riffs that are ideal for moshing.
  • Main band: Suffocation. Others: Internal Bleeding, Pyrexia, Skinless, Dying Fetus

3. New York Death Metal II

  • Immolation, Incantation: deep vocals, anti-Christianity, paying attention to tempo, time and pace changes, high-pitched guitars with deep and low music.
  • Mortician: low guitars, sound samples from horror movies. Made the use of drum machine acceptable.

4. Grindcore

  • While all this happened in the US in the early 1990s, the Grindcore movement blossomed in Europe with bands like Napalm Death and Carcass. 
  • Carcass's album Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious is said to be pure death metal with a melodic twist, and it later inspired many Swedish melodic death metal bands.

5. Early Swedish Death Metal Movement

  • Non-standard and low guitar tuning, more melody, groovier and catchier songs.
  • Sunlight Studios / Stockholm.
  • Nihilist, Carnage, Dismember.
  • Entombed's album Left Hand Path is the hallmark of Swedish death metal. It has high quality production, unique guitar sound involving the use of a distortion pedal with all knobs turned to ten.
  • Unleashed: traditional metal dynamics + riffing with Viking themes
  • Grave: very deep vocals and brutal guitar work that resulted in a sound heavier than typical Swedish metal.
  • Dismember's sound influenced heavily the Finnish Death Metal Movement (WOOOOO FINLAND) in the early 1990s: Xysma, Amorphis (formerly Abhorrence), Convulse, Demilich.

6. Contemporary Swedish Death Metal Movement

  • Transformation from the old to new Swedish death metal is illustrated well by Hypocrisy: their early albums reflect the classic Swedish sounds, but later they incorporated sounds from different genres of music, including gothic and pop.
  • Emhpasizing harmonies and the melodic aspects of traditional metal.
  • The only "brutal" thing is the callous vocal style, which is very similar to traditional death metal vocals.
  • In Flames, Dark Tranquillity.

7. (British Death Metal:) Doom Death Metal

  • My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost produced slow, deep death metal with simple yet gloomy songs.
  • Slow, lurching tempos and spacious, instrumentally layered arrangements.
  • Cathedral, Anathema, Amorphis, Thergothon (WOOOO FINLAND), The Gathering, Disembowelment, Winter, Morgion.

8. Late 1990s: "Old School" Death Metal

  • More simple and primitive metal, less speed, fewer blast beats, less focus on musical technicality.
  • Necrophagia, Abscess, Nunslaughter, The Ravenous, Bloodbath, Mortem, Pentacle.

9. Gore-Grind
  • Heavily inspired by early Carcass.
  • Pitch-shifted or extremely low vocals, use of gore and forensic pathology in lyrics, very fast tempos. 
  • General Surgery, Regurgitate, Necrony, Dead Infection, Sanity's Dawn, Hemorrhage, The Meat Shits, Exhumed, Impaled, Dead, Gut.

Obviously you can find more and more genres if you want, but these are the ones that were mentioned in the book. Crossovers are also extremely usual. Luckily, the book was published in 2003, which was before the -core invasion... I wonder if she had included any of that in the book. Hmm.

That's all for now. I might write more about the book later.

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