Born of a rib of thrash in the second half of the Eighties, death metal exasperates the lessons taught by past bands and revolutionizes the extreme metal concept, showing it's ability to overcome the apparent limits of a musical genre that has evolved time and time again.
Magazine: Metal Hammer / Italy
Millennium Special #2
Article: Into The Lungs of Hell
Written by: Enrico de Paola
Translated by: Vincenzo Chioccarelli
Published: March 2000
Leaving out the indisputable importance of Venom and Bathory, who we already talked about elsewhere, among the founders of death (but of black, thrash and every other type of extreme metal too), we can't avoid mentioning once again, Celtic Frost, the Swiss band born of the ashes of Hellhammer that, since the ancient Eighties, would pave the way for many past and present musical groups. Baptism began in 1984 with 'Morbid Tales', a mini-LP characterized by fascinating sounds that join the classical thrash rhythms and the most funeral doom atmospheres from the band's singer/guitarist and leader Tom G. Warrior's deep and dark voice (similar to death-style).
The confirmation of the very good qualities showed by the band came the following year with the convincing EP 'Emperor's Return' and the first full-length album 'To Mega Therion.' These are two sources of never-ending inspiration for death metal's birth and development. But with 'Into The Pandemonium' Celtic Frost release their most innovative album: lyrical female vocals, orchestral arrangements and every sort of experimentation are just the music now played by many black and death metal bands (Cradle Of Filth and Therion, for example).
Besides Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost, we can't forget the great importance of Slayer who show a very personal and uncompromising sound since their second album 'Hell awaits' (1985). It's a real sonic assault produced by bass-player/vocalist Tom Araya, the axe-men Jeff Hanneman & Kerry King and the extraordinary drummer Dave Lombardo. Although the band is still a thrash act, Slayer's music is so much more violent and different from that one of buddies Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus et cetera, that in their case they began to talk (though improperly) about death metal. Above all the third album, the famous and unrivalled 'Reign In Blood', will be the cult for the future sheer death metal bands such as Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel. No less fundamental to the genre's birth were Possessed, an American band from the Bay Area, still a favorite among every death/black metal band worth the genre. (For your information it is the ensemble with guitarist Larry Lalonde later on in thrashers Blind Illusion along with the inspired bass player Les Claypool (both went on to the freaky Primus).
The optimum metal mix of Slayer and Venom that Possessed offer on 'Seven Churches', 'Beyond The Gates' and 'The Eyes Of Terror', is still an important point of reference for the current musical scene and keeps on being universally praised almost fifteen years after its first market appearance. At last we have to tell about the German thrash scene that was beginning in those years, led by Sodom and Kreator. These last, above all, decidedly emerge, turning out to be particularly adept at revising Slayer's lessons in their own personal and gripping way. The neurotic and raging voice of singer/guitarist (and undisputable leader) Mille Petrozza makes the Kreator name one of the favorite by thrashers, while the second official release of the German band 'Pleasure To Kill' gives an important inspiration to dawning death groups. Nearly the same is the impact aroused by the debut of Sodom that, just in 1984, delighted thrash fanatics with their EP 'In The Sign Of Evil'. But, while the German scene begins to create their effects, in Brasil Sepultura take their first steps that, in 1985, release their negligible mini-LP 'Bestial Devastation' Also the band's first full-length album is lacking of interest: in fact, 'Morbid Visions' is a record on which there are evident mistakes and obvious musical inability. You'll need to wait for just a couple of years to be enraptured by the Brazilian band that, in the years between the Eighties and Nineties, marks sheer thrash/death masterpieces like 'Schizophrenia', 'Beneath The Remains' and 'Arise'.
The first (and maybe most important) champions of the classical death metal concept are called Mantas. With this name, soon abandoned for the more famous Death, was born one of the most influential bands in the extreme metal story. After the dignified (yet not exciting) debut with 'Scream Bloody Gore' in the far-away 1987, the very young Death leader/guitarist/vocalist, Chuck Schuldiner, succeeds every time in reaching more and more ambitious goals, setting up a perfect machine. The line-up troubles met over their winding road don't seem to weaken the band, but, on the contrary, strengthen the qualities of a band that, despite their troubles and despite their name, never split up. In the same year in which the four-piece led by Schuldiner release their first masterpiece with 'Leprosy', not one band exists worth to be compared with Death. But from Netherlands the unfortunate Pestilence show to have already learned the lesson, releasing the promising debut 'Malleus Maleficarum'.
But you'll need to wait for years 1989-1990 to know the best shining moments of death metal. It's just in these two years, in fact, that the most important bands of the examined genre release their most exciting discs. Above all in the United States (in the Bay Area and in Florida) all hell breaks loose that will grace the now-famous Morrisound Recording Studios. Morbid Angel debut with 'Altars Of Madness', Obituary with 'Slowly We Rot', while Atheist release their masterpiece 'Piece Of Time'. Less numerous, but however fascinating the same, are the answers from other nations: Sweden imposes its trademark with Entombed and their great debut 'Left Hand Path' (giving honor to the now very famous Sunlight Studios), Brazil confirms the value of thrasher/deathers Sepultura with 'Beneath The Remains', ; while in England the grindcore of Napalm Death and Carcass breaks loose.
In 1990 excellent releases confirm the death metal monsters Morbid Angel ('Blessed Are The Sick') and Obituary ('Cause Of Death'), but there are also surprises like the superlative comeback of Sadus ('Swallowed In Black') of the incomparable bass-player Steve DiGiorgio, the first death metal album by Napalm Death ('Harmony Corruption'), the amazing debut of Nocturnus ('The Key') that are the pioneers of symphonic death, the glorious return of Death ('Spiritual Healing') assisted by James Murphy on guitar.
Probably among the most disputable bands, but however fundamental for the genre's development, surely Deicide stands out with their self-titled debut. Deicide, (although led by a man called Glen Benton, who has an evident reversed cross scarred on his eyebrow), can (rightly) be disdained by many, they are one of the main representatives of an original and extremely convincing sound, worthy to enter by right the death hierarchy along with names such as Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel. The debut of the now praised Cannibal Corpse, leaves you rather indifferent because it's overshadowed by other, more important, records.
PUPILS OF CHAOS
From 1991 to 1994, masterpieces are quite rare, yet on the contrary renewals and births of bands are quite common. These are the years of the debuts of Unleashed (a band with a sound very close to the death metal origins), Tiamat, Hypocrisy, Egde Of Sanity, At The Gates, Dismember, In Flames, Vader, Sentenced, Malevolent Creation, Konkhra, the violent American grind 'n'death of Brutal Truth of bass player Dan Lilker (Anthrax, Nuclear Assault) and of many other bands. Yet above all shined the release of 'Focus', the wonderful gem of the progressive death metallers Cynic.
Good albums are released by Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Death, Deicide, Entombed, Napalm Death, Pestilence and Sepultura. In '95/'99 some of the most important discs of the Nineties were released. We're talking about 'Slaughter Of The Soul' (At The Gates), 'Vile' and 'Gallery Of Suicide' (Cannibal Corpse), 'Abducted' (Hypocrisy), 'The Jester Race' (In Flames), 'The Gallery' (Dark Tranquillity), 'Symbolic' (Death), 'Once Upon The Cross' (Deicide), 'Black Earth' (Arch Enemy), 'The Haunted' (The Haunted), 'Theli' (Therion), 'Haunted' (Six Feet Under), 'By Time Alone' (Orphanage), 'Steelbath Suicide' (Soilwork), 'The Avenger' (Amon Amarth), 'Rusted Angel' (Darkane), 'Who's Gonna Burn' (Carnal Forge), 'Something Wild' (Children Of Bodom) and a bunch of other titles we hope to tell you about later in the third Millennium special.
About at the end of the Eighties, besides the death metal phenomena , the so-called grindcore movement starts to take shape, especially in England. It's a musical genre ruled by the 'no-compromise' law, showing very short and extreme tracks, in which the hardcore element plays a decisive part. But above all the punk attitude, rather than the music itself, is the vital element around which the grindcore was developing. What stimulates and feeds the bands belonging to this scene is the protest against the society, against right-wing thinking persons, against every either silently or explicitly imposed rule. Most of the time the musicians really seem not to be able to play an instrument with real professionalism.
Later, on the contrary, a lot of grind combos show evident interest in death metal (with which they already shared, although in different ways, the use of growling vocals), becoming technically more prepared and try to go beyond the just set boundaries. Indisputable leaders and main pioneers are the English Napalm Death that, in 1987, with their debut album unambiguously titled 'Scum', give us the "scum" of the metal-hardcore musical limits, and arouse the first claims and most absurd critics by the specialized press. The following 'From Enslavement To Obliteration' creates the usual mess of contrasting judgments, is featuring more than twenty tracks, many of which are characterized by a derisive length of a few seconds.
Extreme screaming vocals, sharp bass parts, obsessive guitar rhythms and terribly hammering drums, are the core of the sound of the first Napalm Death. But the grindcore excesses of the beginning are soon left for death metal that, from 'Harmony Corruption', gets more and more technical and mature. Beyond that, the changing line-up of the Birmingham-based band is stupefying. In fact, in Napalm Death have been playing: Mick Harris and Nick Bullen (then they'll both be in Scorn), Justin Broadrick (Godflesh), Bill Steer (Carcass), Lee Dorrian (Cathedral), Mark Barney Greenway (Benediction), Jesse Pintado (Terrorizer) and Mitch Harris (Righteous Pigs).
Beside Napalm Death, among the primary bands of the grindcore, Carcass has to be mentioned. Above all, their music is distinguished by the use of a double growl. For Carcass count the same things as earlier for Napalm Death. As time passes, the band starts to prefer more complex structures that in the end flow into the death metal world. But, different from Napalm Death, the last part of Carcass' carreer doesn't repeat the same patterns as do many other bands, but lead the way for next generations. The grind 'n' death sound extremism find its last exponent in Terrorizer, a band featuring famous guest musicians such a guitarist Jesse Pintado (at the time in Napalm Death), and two Morbid Angel members, bass player David Vincent and drummer Pete Sandoval. The result of their cooperation with singer Oscar Garcia is their much talked about 'World Downfall'.
MONSTERS OF DEATH
Although its detractors think the opposite, death metal is a kind of music that is not easy to play. In the most important bands belonging to this extreme rock genre, are the names of very skilled and fantastic musicians that, with their share, succeeded to write some of the most charming pages in the metal history. Among those musicians it's right to mention the extraordinary drummer Gene Hoglan, who's able to compete with the highly regarded Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Grip Inc., Fantomas) and Paul Bostaph (Forbidden, Slayer). After being a part of the Californian thrashers Dark Angel, Hoglan joined Death for two albums, and then left to play with Strapping Young Lad.
Beyond this, he also proved himself to be an indefatigable session man working with succesful bands like Testament, Fear Factory and Old Man's Child. Worthy of mention also is the eclectic bass player Steve DiGiorgio, who, after emerging with the underestimated Sadus, offered his in incredible talent to Death, Testament and Control Denied. But he who needs more than a simple clap is the real guitar hero James Murphy.The technical and the musical background of this last extreme champion, really don't seem to have expressive limits. Murphy, in fact, has got very numerous collaboration that sometimes are apart from a real metal context. We remember him with pleasure from Death, Obituary, Disincarnate, Cancer, Testament (those ones of the amazing 'Low' and the recent 'The Gathering') and Konkhra. Not less meaningful is James' solo work on 'Convergence' and 'Feeding The Machine', while even more surprising his guest appearences on the Explorer's Club project and the tribute to Rush 'Working Man'.
Among the first leaders of the extreme sound in Italy are just two names: Necrodeath and Schizo. The unconditioned love for Slayer and Kreator is underlined with pleasure by Necrodeath who, about thirteen years ago, made the historical record 'Into The Macabre', and album on which the very good and undoubtful qualities of the band emerge. So we welcome with enthusiasm the recent come back of the band led by Peso and Claudio, who today seem to intentionally be playing the role of best Italian extreme metal act of all times with their latest release 'Mater Of All Evil'.
Schizo also payed their share to the Italian death metal cause. The band of guitarist Vittorio Bianco, bass player Alberto Penzin and drummer Pat Pappalardo who at the end of the Eighties presented themselves to the public with the praiseworthy 'Main Frame Collapse'. In the Nineties, on the contrary, the number of Italian acts worth to be respected, greatly increased, along with releases from the shadows of the past, like Schizo's mini-LP 'Sound Of Coming Darkness'. This is the period in which Sadist are noticed, who are one of the most important and innovative musical bands of our 'Bel Paese' extreme metal scene.
Their debut 'Above The Light' (recorded with a line-up including the leader Tommy on guitar/keyboard, Andy on bass and Peso on drums) soon features the unmistakable trademark of a band that will be able to fascinate and surprise with every release. Among the relatively more recent bands are, appreciated beyond, Detestor, with their pure-death metal debut "In The Circle Of Time', the old-style death metallers from Bari, Natron, and Fiurach, a band born from the ashes of Agarthi, who stood out last year with an epic symphonic death metal influenced by thrash which caractherizes the good debut 'Chaospawner'.
DEATH METAL RECOMENDED DISCOGRAPHY
ATHEIST - 'Piece Of Time' (Actice Records - 1989)
A progressive death metal masterpiece by one of the most important and underestimated bands from Florida. Unfortunately the accidental death of the excellent bass player Roger Patterson will bring troubles on Atheist's way.
AT THE GATES - 'Slaughter Of The Soul' (Earache - 1995)
One of the most praised and influential death metal albums in the scene. A superb example of melodic death metal strongly influenced by "dear ol' Eighties thrash. An absolute must of rare beauty and blasting power that you can't miss.
ARCH ENEMY - 'Burning Bridges' (Century media - 1999)
Among the best come backs of one of the emerging bands of melodic death metal with roots in the past of thrash and metal in general. 'Burning Bridges' features the bass player Sharlee D'Angelo (Mercyful Fate).
CARCASS - 'Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious' (Earache - 1991)
'Heartwork' (Earache - 1994)
See 'Millennium Special # I'
CHILDREN OF BODOM - 'Something Wild' (Nuclear Blast - 1998)
Fusing Malmsteen-style neoclassical metal, melodic death metal, Eighties thrash, classic power, black metal influences and symphonies featured by nowadays bands wasn't an easy deed, but Children Of Bodom hit the mark perfectly. As phenomenal as the next 'Hatebreeder'.
CYNIC - 'Focus' (Roadrunner - 1993)
A band constituted by exceptional musicians named Jason Gobel (Monstrosity), Paul Masvidal (Death), Sean Reinert (Death), Shawn Malone (Gordian Knot), 'Focus' features an original progressive death metal in which there are evident different influences, from fusion to jazz. A renowned chapter in death metal.
DARK TRANQUILLITY - 'The Gallery' (Osmose - 1995)
Among the youngest outfits of the Nineties there are the Swedish Dark tranquillity, that, on 'The Gallery' create a very complex and articulate death metal, that, without neglecting the classic impact of this musical genre, is enriched by fascinating and charming atmospheres.
DARKANE - 'Rusted Angel' (WAR - 1999)
Darkane's debut is almost on the same level of Carnal Forge's one for impact and power, but differs owing to the presence of arrangements in a classical music style. Orchestral death metal which doesn't forget the lesson of At The Gates.
DISMEMBER - 'Death Metal' (Nuclear Blast - 1997)
Pure death metal shot in your face with no hesitation or mercy. Among the most extreme and indomitable true death metallers of all time.
ENTOMBED - 'Left Hand Path' (Earache - 1989)
See 'Millennium Special # I'
IN FLAMES - 'The Jester Race' (Nuclear Blast - 1996)
When you talk about melodic death metal you soon think of the Swedish In Flames and this charming disk! 'The Jester Race' represents the highest peak of a band very able to balance death metal with melodies of the classic Heavy Metal from the past.
HYPOCRISY - 'Abducted' (Nuclear Blast - 1996)
Hypocrisy, band of extreme metal King Midas Peter Tagtgren, did one of their best chapters with 'Abducted', a fabulous extract of death metal with black influences that winks an eye to Pink Floyd.
MORBID ANGEL - 'Altars Of Madness' (Earache - 1989)
'Blessed Are The Sick' (Earache - 1991)
'Altars Of Madness' and 'Blessed Are The Sick' need no comment: two shining episodes released by the first real masters of death metal. It's a pity that the next Morbid Angel's release is not as good as these first two works of the band.
NOCTURNUS - 'The Key' (Earache - 1990)
One of the most progressive, melodic and technical records released by former Morbid Angel member Mike Browning. One of the first examples of symphonic death metal, excellently played and using keybords.
OBITUARY - 'Cause Of Death' (Roadrunner - 1990)
The masters of death metal should have been mentioned with any of their records with no risk of disappointing the lovers of the genre. Yet 'Cause Of Death' shines particularly because it features guitar hero James Murphy.
PESTILENCE - 'Testimony Of The Ancients' (Roadrunner - 1991)
High quality progressive death metal that we hope will never be forgotten by next generations. Along with 'Consuming Impulse' it represents the highest peak reached by the Dutch band.
SADUS - 'Swallowed In Black' (Roadrunner - 1990)
Second official release from Sadus, band of the famous bass player Steve DiGiorgio, very talented musician we find also in Death ('Human' and 'Individual Thought Patterns'), Testament ('The Gathering') and recent Control Denied ('The Fragile Art Of Existence'). On 'Swallowed In Black' is shown a technical and complex death metal with a great impact.
SOILWORK - 'Steelbath Suicide' (Listenable Records - 1998)
As worthy as the subsequent 'The Chainheart Machine', 'Steelbath Suicide' features a melodic death metal played with enviable skill. There are influences of Eighties thrash (especially in the very heavy guitar riffs) and classic metal too.
Translated by VC/MM/YK for EmptyWords-Published on October 27 2002