Death Metal

"Death Metal was never meant to be pretty, baby!"
Michael Amott In the liner notes of the 2000 reissue of "Dark Recollections" by Carnage

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

Death metal, also known as "that genre concerned parents hate", is a particularly notable subgenre of metal that is usually characterised by growled, roared, or shrieked vocals, heavily downtuned guitars, and generally quite proficient musicianship utilising a variety of unusual techniques and instrumentation such as tremolo picking, palm muting, double kick blast beats, and complex, evolving song structures with frequently morphing time signatures played at quite tremendous speeds. Lyrics usually (though not always) focus on anger, hate, gore, and death, and some pretty gory album covers are not at all uncommon. It is The New Rock & Roll; easily one of the most misunderstood musical genres since its own inception, its critics almost always characterise it as an unlistenable noise attack, ignorant of the genuine, if not universally endearing, musicianship involved. Special hate is often reserved for the distinct and distinctively named vocal style, commonly characterised as ugly, unmusical, or mere screaming with an equal degree of ignorance as to the immense skill and physical fitness required to sing death vocals well without quickly ruining one's voice.

The style evolved from Thrash Metal in the eighties, with some bands influential on the genre (thrash or otherwise) including Slayer, Venom, Celtic Frost and Kreator. The first band to get acknowledged for playing death metal was the thrash band Possessed, with their landmark album Seven Churches. While Possessed may have been the Trope Namer (they even had a song named "Death Metal"), the Trope Makers, and according to some sources the Ur Examples, were Death, who released their first album, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987. They replaced the overt thrash influences of Possessed with an at-the-time unparalleled fusion of brutality and technicality, solidifying the genre.

Initially just an underground niche for the most extreme of metalheads, death metal only managed to gain recognition outside the underground thanks to some of the more popular and controversial bands, such as Deicide, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, who in the early 1990s were suddenly being noticed by livid moral guardians the world over. There was the brutality of the music itself, featuring extensive use of dissonance, atonality, syncopation, deep forays into the deranged realms of frequently shifting Uncommon Time, and the general tendency to angrily take a hatchet to most of the other things that make pop music accessible and catchy (like simple melodies and rhythms); this, combined readily with the decidedly offensive (some might say antisocially so) thematics of the genre helped culture warriors and moral crusaders to froth up an image of terrible music that promoted violence, sex, sexual violence, Satan, and probably somehow drugs as well. This culminated in Cannibal Corpse being banned from performance in several countries.

Since then, the genre has mostly remained underground, with a devoted but relatively modest following, stellar critical acclaim and a thoroughly international scene (for example, did you know Botswana has a thriving death metal scene?); however a few bands have had a large amount of recognition, as have a couple of subgenres. The genre's influence has also been felt in many other genres, including Gothic Metal, Groove Metal, Nu Metal, and Metalcore. These, and several other forms of more traditional or popular metal have developed a harder, more abrasive sound, with harsher vocals and heavier distortion in response to the pioneering sounds of Death Metal, while retaining more accessible or conventional song structures and motifs.

For the hip-hop equivalent see Horrorcore.


Multiple scenes with specific sounds have popped up over the years; for those wondering, the main ones are:

  • Florida: Thrashy, riff-oriented material, frequently with a pronounced technical edge and virtuosic playing. Easily the most successful scene to the point where bands with that sound were relocating there back in the day (Cannibal Corpse, Angelcorpse, Malevolent Creation); notable native bands include Death, Obituary, Deicide, Atheist, Monstrosity, Six Feet Under, Brutality, and Nocturnus.
  • New York: A mix between aggressive, grind and hardcore-influenced material that laid the template for brutal death and doomy, dirgelike acts. Also includes bands from surrounding states, primarily NJ and PA; notable bands include Suffocation, Immolation, Incantation, Malignancy, Morpheus Descends, Dehumanized, Pyrexia, and Internal Bleeding.
  • California: A mixture of brutal, riff-oriented material that eschews leads in favor of a massive sea of winding, interconnected riffs building off one another, and melodic proggy tech that carries heavy late-era Death influences, with many of the former bands gradually turning into the latter. Notable bands include Deeds of Flesh, Disgorge, Decrepit Birth, Arkaik, Severed Savior, and Odious Mortem.
  • Sweden: Raw, punkish material with a darkly melodic undertone and frequent doom influences, as well as a trademark "chainsaw" guitar tone. Some acts also helped give birth to death 'n roll by way of infusing their music with hard rock elements. Three certain bands from Gothenburg partly eschewed brutality in favor of melody, thus creating and estabilishing a more melodic approach to death metal. Notable bands include Entombed, Dismember, Grave, Unleashed, God Macabre, and Carnage.
  • Finland: Dark and doomy material with a focus on creepy atmospheric sections and occasional bits of eerie melody. Notable bands include Amorphis (early material), Demilich, Demigod, Convulse, Sentenced (early material), and Adramelech.
  • Poland: Focuses more on the technical, thrashy side or the more atmospheric blackened edge of death metal. Notable bands include Vader, Behemoth (starting with Pandemonic Incantations), Decapitated, Hate, Trauma, Lost Soul, and Yattering.
  • Quebec: Highly technical material with progressive leanings; earlier acts leaned towards a more brutal sound, while later acts moved towards a more melodic, spacy sound that often includes prominent fretless bass. Notable bands include Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Kataklysm, Neuraxis, Martyr, Quo Vadis, Augury, and Unhuman.
  • Russia: Very big on slow, but rock-bottom heavy slam, though some of them have begun to move in a more technical direction with prominent Dying Fetus influences. Notable bands include Katalepsy, Abominable Putridity, Abnormity, 7 H. Target, and Big End Bolt.
  • East Asia: Rooted in grindcore, noise rock and deathcore, mathcore and slam death. Bands often have a strong affinity for Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, some have melodic tendencies, some go Up to Eleven thanks to Harsh Noise influences. Notable bands include Magwi and Oathean from South Korea, Hydrophobia, Vomit Remnants, Dir En Grey (from Marrow of a Bone onwards), Imperial Circus Dead Decadence, Kokuyasou, Ritual Carnage, and Youthquake from Japan, Bloodshedd and Sin from the Philippines, and China's Lunar Eclipse.
  • Australasia: Weird, experimental fare with heavy jazz, post-rock, and black metal influences that borrows heavily from Gorguts and Atheist and runs the gamut from winding, playful, jazzy riff-fests to extremely dark, moody, and often nightmarish soundscapes. Notable bands include Psycroptic, Stargazer, Ulcerate, Mephistopheles, The Amenta, Beyond Terror Beyond Grace (Nadir, mostly), and Portal.
  • Italy: Generally involves extremely fast, blast-heavy brutal death with occasional blackened death, melodic death and/or tech death influences. Notable bands include Hour of Penance, Fleshgod Apocalypse (pre-Agony), Septycal Gorge, Putridity, Hideous Divinity, and Antropofagus.
  • The Netherlands: Being such a small country, The Netherlands boasts one of the biggest scenes out there. There's something for everyone with the emphasis on old school stuff (Asphyx, Sempiternal Deathreign, Pentacle, old Pestilence) and REALLY brutal Up to Eleven fare (Brutus, Disavowed, Pyaemia). Other internationally known bands include God Dethroned, Hail of Bullets, Houwitser, Severe Torture and Sinister.

There are many different subgenres of death metal. Three of them (Melodic Death Metal, Technical Death Metal note  and Deathcore) have their own entries. Here is a quick list of bands by basic subgenre:

Old-School Death Metal
Pure, classic death metal.

Death/Thrash Metal
Death metal with a strong thrash influence. Many early death metal bands were rooted in thrash.

Melodic Death Metal
Death Metal with a greater emphasis on melody, along with a dose of Power Metal or traditional Heavy Metal riffage. For more information, go here

Brutal Death Metal
Death metal with more emphasis on brutality and speed, and less on melody. Often incorporates elements from grindcore (in particular, obviously, goregrind).

Technical Death Metal
Essentially what happens when a death metal band starts to increase the technical musicianship borrowed from Jazz, Classical Music, and/or Progressive Rock/Progressive Metal. For more information, go here

Slam Death Metal
Seen mainly as a progression of brutal death with subtle but noticeable hip-hop influences and a generally heightened focus on heavily syncopated, mosh-oriented rhythms, slam death metal is characterised by gurgling vocals, breakdowns, and grooves. Sometimes considered to be "proto-deathcore"; there is also a certain overlap between slam death metal and the more extreme deathcore bands, which is why Waking the Cadaver and Ingested are on this list.

Blackened Death Metal
Death metal with influences from Black Metal. Sometimes confused for a straight-up fusion of death and black metal.

Death/Doom or Doom/Death
Death metal fused with Doom Metal. The Gothic Metal genre evolved from this, as did the Doom subgenre "funeral doom".

Deathgrind
Death Metal + Grindcore. A potentially confusing subgenre, considering how similar the two genres are already to the average person.

Deathcore
Death Metal mixed with Hardcore Punk or Metalcore. Because of it's nature, it's most prone to Genre-Busting and Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly with other genres. For more information, go here

The death metal genre exhibits the following trope examples:

  • Awesome Music: Plenty.
  • Badass Normal: Many death metal artists showcase an everyday casual look, which comes across as more "normal" (save for the hair and, occasionally, the beards) than the styles worn by non-death metal artists. Many of them also appear (and are actually ) very nice and approachable, though their music and lyrics indicate otherwise.
  • Bald of Awesome: A growing number of older artists and fans are embracing this hairstyle, which may or may not be paired with a Badass Beard.
  • Big Fun: Death metal is filled with Gonky or overweight artists for whatever reason, so much that this is the usual physical stereotype people associate with artists in the genre.
  • Careful with That Axe: Occasionally, vocalists will complement their grunts with high-pitched screeches. Chris Barnes and Glen Benton (who popularized this approach) are the most prominent examples.
  • Contemptible Cover: The most famous example being Cannibal Corpse's entire discography, but this trope is all over the place in death metal.
  • Darker and Edgier: Death metal was possibly intended as the D&E version of thrash metal, which was already the D&E version of traditional/speed metal.
    • Which was the D&E version of hard rock, which was the D&E version of classic rock, which was the D&E version of 60s pop... Extreme metal in all its forms is about as dark as it gets within metal.
    • Bloodier and Gorier: YES.
  • Doing It for the Art: Maybe not quite as much as Black Metal, but Death Metal musicians spend hours upon hours learning to play their instruments incredibly proficiently and fast, with very little prospects of commercial success. All the while, they're all but written off by both mainstream and alternative music news sources, and ignored as incomprehensible garbage by the average person, most of which haven't even actually tried the music. The fandom is very loyal though.
  • Epic Riff: Being the most riff-driven style of metal along with Thrash Metal, this is a given.
  • Fandom Rivalry: The death metal fandom is sometimes at odds with the Black Metal fandom.
    • The various subgenres sometimes have this, too. For example, brutal vs. melodic, and all other fandoms vs. slam.
  • Fan Disservice: Any album cover that features anything sexual is bound to be this.
  • For the Evulz: Usually the motivation of Gorn-themed lyrics.
  • Gorn: Possibly the most common lyrical theme, although bands that sing about other subjects are pretty easy to find.
  • Harsh Vocals: The main vocal style of the genre.
  • Humans Are Bastards/Misanthrope Supreme/Straw Nihilist: If Metal-Archives lists "misanthropy" and/or "nihilism" among a given band's lyrical themes, expect generous doses of these.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Almost a Dead Unicorn Trope in death metal's case considering the large number of vocalists in the genre who attempt to tempter their Harsh Vocals with clear enunciation of the lyrics. Although death metal in general is perhaps unfairly pegged with this trope due to Public Medium Ignorance, in the brutal/slam death metal subgenre it is actually widely the norm, with vocals being present mostly for the purpose of accenting the music with a guttural texture, rather than to convey a coherent lyrical theme. In the case of death metal bands which actually do fall under this trope, vocal performances rendering exceptionally obscene lyrics indecipherable can be beneficial for the purpose of Getting Crap Past the Radar (e.g. Chris Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse, Vehemence's lyrically vile God Was Created).
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks: As with Black Metal (though possibly to a lesser degree), the fandom of death metal sometimes displays this attitude with regards to some bands.
  • Jerkass: Most of the fans. Averted with the musicians though.
  • Lead Bassist: Type B and C examples are everywhere, and there are also quite a few Type A and Type D examples due to the technical skill that is frequently required to play the genre; of these, Alex Webster, Mike Flores, Steve DiGiorgio, Erlend Caspersen, and Derek Boyer are particularly famous.
  • Lead Drummer: Also tends to happen quite a lot, due to the technical skill required of death metal drummers. Pete Sandoval, Mike Smith, George Kollias, Flo Mounier, Derek Roddy and John Longstreth are particularly prominent examples.
  • Loudness War: Not a problem with older releases in the genre (unless they've been "remastered"), but this plagues modern releases. It's almost impossible to find a modern death metal album that isn't horribly brickwalled, with generous doses of clipping on top. May be a case of Stylistic Suck, and is unfortunately encouraged (indirectly or not) by some fans and critics.note . There are some producers fighting this trend, however, with Colin Marston being the most visible example.
    • This is such a prevalent problem in the genre that one of the redirects for this trope is Deaf Metal.
  • Love It or Hate It: One of the absolute worst cases of it: fans like it for its rock-bottom heavy sound, complex arrangements and extreme musicianship; while people who dislike it claim that it's unlistenable, extremely overindulgent, highly repetitive, massively messy, unrelentingly discordant and unmelodic trash. You probably like it/hate it for...just one thing. Professional critics are equally polarized.
    • Within death metal, slam. It's either simple, trashy, groovy fun that's a recipe for a good time live, or it's stupid, boring, and obnoxiously derivative garbage with a fanbase full of deathcore kiddies and dumb wiggers.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Many death metal musicians are actually very friendly when not playing.
  • Metal Scream: Relatively prevalent in the music, and often of the type 2 variety, though it's not uncommon for vocals to lean towards type 3.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: One of the more extreme metal genres, averaging at around 10-11. Older death metal pegs at the harder end of Level 9.
  • Motor Mouth: It is common for death metal vocalists to speed up their vocal work to catch up to the already fast instrumentation, often coming close to Singing Simlish.
  • Misogyny Song: A common theme of Brutal and especially Slam Death Metal lyrics. Began with early Cannibal Corpse and was later popularized by bands such as Devourment, Waking The Cadaver and Waco Jesus. Though it's likely that they want to troll the general public than actually promote misogyny. Some bands have gained notoriety for this, at one point or another.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Quite a few slam acts have a very wigger-ish aesthetic; while the origin of this isn't precisely known, it seems likely that it came from the more "urban" styles of Internal Bleeding, Dehumanized, and Dying Fetus, all of whom had very prominent NYHC influences.
  • Protest Song: If it's even remotely politically-tinged, it'll usually be this.
  • Public Medium Ignorance: "Death Metal... Is that like Slipknot or something?"note  This confusion is a bit of a Berserk Button for many.
    • Also common is people thinking death metal is noise. As in, disorganized, non-rhythmic, non-melodic noise with indecipherable screaming. That also exists, but it's nothing like death metal.
    • As stated above, the genre is also widely claimed to be The New Rock & Roll, despite the diabolical themes commonly associated with the genre being far, far more common in another genre of metal.
  • Rated M for Manly: Oh yes.
  • Religion Rant Song: The other most common lyrical theme.
  • Revolving Door Band: If you're wondering why the trope is in bold, it's because this is really common for death metal bands to have more former members than songs...
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: While it is nowhere near as ubiquitous here as in Black Metal, there are still plenty of bands for whom this is a lyrical focus. The most famous may be Incantation and Deicide.
  • Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Gorn lyrics are so common, it's rarely ever used as criticism against the genre these days.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: A lot of death metal lyrics and song titles feature scientific/medical jargon and other gibberish-sounding words, which is no surprise considering the lyrical and aesthetic themes associated with the genre.
  • Trolling Creator : Many of the artists that write the misogynistic Gorn lyrics are moreso this than not.
  • Trope Maker: Death. It's unclear whether they were the first death metal band (because they were around at roughly the same time as Possessed, Master and Necrophagia), but they are generally agreed to have properly established death metal as a genre with Scream Bloody Gore.
  • Trope Namer: Generally either Possessed (with the song "Death Metal" off Seven Churches) or Death (their style apparently being dubbed "Death's metal" in their early days, before death metal really took off as a genre).
  • Trope Codifier: Cannibal Corpse in the public eye; metalheads are more likely to cite Morbid Angel, Obituary, or Deicide as such. For the genre as a whole:
    • Old School Death Metal: Death and Morbid Angel
    • Brutal Death Metal: Suffocation, Pyrexia, and Internal Bleeding
    • Slam Death Metal: Devourment
    • Death/Doom Metal: Autopsy and Incantation
    • Blackened Death Metal: Necrophobic
    • Death 'n' Roll: Entombed, Gorefest, and Pungent Stench
    • Deathgrind: Terrorizer and Brutal Truth
    • Technical Death Metal: Atheist and Nocturnus
    • Melodic Death Metal: In Flames, At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and Eucharist
    • Deathcore: The Red Chord, Despised Icon, and All Shall Perish
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Part of the genre's appeal to metalheads.
  • The Unintelligible: Thanks to the genre's focus on Harsh Vocals, death metal vocalists are embodiments of this trope by default. Some examples are worse thanks to foreign-language or badly-written English lyrics, which may or may not be combined with the liberal use of Motor Mouth as the main vocal delivery.
    • Though, considering the usual lyrical themes, this might be a good thing. YMMV, of course...some folks enjoy the grossness.
  • Up to Eleven: Death metal did this to Thrash Metal and metal in general. And, as if the extreme nature of death metal wasn't enough, brutal death took regular death metal, intensified it by a hundred times, ran away with it, and let it evolve as a full-fledged metal microgenre. Deathgrind followed a similar development path.
  • Villain-Based Franchise: This is how many bands see themselves.