Death metal is an extreme metal subgenre defined by its dark, often violent lyrics, low guttural screaming vocals, fast paced guitar riffs, and blast beats. The genre evolved from the speed of thrash metal and the darkness of early black metal. Pioneers of the genre include, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse and Possessed.
Lyrics are characteristically hyper-violent and known for being about mutilation, dissection, torture, and cannibalism but, do expand to science fiction, philosophy and politics.
Violent lyrics from Cannibal Corpse’s Shredded Humans:
The father of three was impaled on the wheel,
as his skull became a part of the dash
His eyeballs ejected his sight unaffected, he saw his own organs collapse
To the environmentally minded lyrics of Gojira:
I had this dream, our planet surviving
The guiding stars always glowing
We will see our children growing
Vocals are typically low and indiscernible growls. The guttural growls usually don’t carry any melody and are intended to add rhythmic complexity to the song. Clean singing is rarely used but, not unheard of.
Guitar riffs incorporate high speed, single note, sustained picking, known as tremolo picking. Power chords are used but are typically heavily palm muted to create a deep crunch. Death metal guitar tones are often heavily distorted and thin sounding. Usually the tone has a scooped out mid range in favor of boosted bass and treble. Most death metal guitar riffs are atonal and dissonant with the exception of the sub genre melodic death metal.
Drummers employ two common techniques, sustained double bass drum kicks and blast beats. Blast beats are alternating strokes of the bass drum and snare. Death metal drummers tend to focus on creating the most sonically violent sound imaginable, leaving little room for subtlety and nuances.
Common Visual Themes
Imagery often includes zombies, rotting flesh, dismemberment, gore and scenes of death. This style of imagery was made popular by Cannibal Corpse and Mortician. Band logos are typically illegible and use fonts resembling tree roots. One well known exception to this is the Party Cannon logo.
Needs more roots.
You can download this sweet font fo’ free at Dafont.com.
Warning: Before you read any further, yes, I admit this is splitting hairs and that any of these bands can be categorized in countless different genre variations. Feel free to share your genre interpretations in the comments.
Symphonic death metal
Take death metal and add epic keyboards and orchestral sounds, you’ve got symphonic death metal.
- Dark Lunacy
- Fleshgod Apocalypse
- Within Temptation
Melodic death metal
Death metal with melodic instrumentation. Dual guitar harmonies and sometimes clean singing. Death growls are still a big part of this genre. Sometimes referred to as “melo death”.
Blackened death metal
Black metal infused death metal. This subgenre is a further blend between the two similar genres.
- God Dethroned
Technical death metal
Musically more advanced than traditional death metal. Tech death bands often trade in their heavily distorted guitar tones for a more punchy and clear sound to allow their intricate riffs to cut through. These bands use complex time changes and drum patterns to create a more musically technical sound.
Death metal meets grindcore.
Heavily influenced by metalcore. Deathcore is known for incorporating the metalcore style breakdown.
- Suicide Silence
- All Shall Perish
- Bring Me the Horizon
- Chelsea Grin
- Job for a Cowboy
- Born of Osiris
Early Influencers and Pioneers
Popular Death Metal Bands
- At The Gates
- Dark Tranquility
- Children of Bodom
- Arch Enemy
- In Flames
- Decrepit Birth
- Cattle Decapitation
- Dying Fetus