Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Paul's Guide to Death Metal
Wikipedia described death metal as “...an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals and screams, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick or blast beat techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes and chromatic chord progressions.“ and that’s a good, technical description. The stereotypical view of death metal is that it’s tuneless noise and shouting. Nothing could be further from the truth and I’m going to walk you through my top ten favorite death metal bands, in no particular order.
Hypocrisy are a Swedish progressive death metal band. They’re the first death metal band I really got into, after seeing the video for Roswell 47 on Headbangers Ball on MTV while I was at university. Hypocrisy’s front man, Peter Tägtgren, is obsessed with alien abduction. Most of Hypocrisy’s albums follow that theme and Roswell 47 is about the crash of the alien spacecraft in New Mexico in 1947. Their finest moment is without a doubt 2004’s The Arrival. Despite sharing its name with an Abba album, it is dark, heavy, progressive and melodic.
I discovered Sweden’s Opeth when they supported Cradle of Filth (a black metal band, so excluded here). They were a three piece at the time and just blew me away on stage. They’re heavy, melodic and extremely progressive. Blackwater Park is considered by many to be their finest album and in 2010 they played it in it’s entirety to a sold out Albert Hall. Their frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, is not only a magnificent musician, but also has a particularly strange sense of humour which entertains fans when he’s on stage. In recent years, unfortunately in my opinion, Opeth have become more progressive rock than metal.
Annotations of an Autopsy
Annotations of an Autopsy were a local Norwich band which I discovered on a Metal Hammer cover CD. They set out to create traditional death metal based on the original bands like Deicide, Autopsy and Cannibal Corpse. I think what they actually produced was a very unique sound which was extremely heavy, yet accessible. Annotations of an Autopsy only produced two albums before they split up and both were superb. Their live sound was challenging, but that could have been down to the appalling PA system at a local venue.
Despite death metal originating in the United States (with the band Death), Nile are one of only two american bands in my top ten. Nile are from South Carolina and are obsessed with Egypt. All of their albums have an Egyptian theme and Egyptian style music influences their death metal. They’re extremely progressive, especially on their 2007 album Ithyphallic which I bought after reading about it in Metal Hammer. It’s one of their best, but often maligned by their fans. Nile are about as heavy as it gets for me.
Deicide are one of the best selling death metal bands. They’re from Florida, where many death metal bands were formed in the 80s. In the early days Deicide played what might be considered traditional death metal on albums such as Deicide and Legion. Their sound has remained heavy and consistent, despite many line up changes and a few excursions into progressive death metal. They’re a somewhat volatile band and frequency cancel shows. I missed seeing them in Nottingham a few years ago as they trashed their tour bus and the promoters sacked them. I’ve since seen them in Norwich and their frontman, Glen Benton’s attitude sucks, but they played very well.
In the early 90s I borrowed a lot of Megadeth and Iron Maiden albums from a friend of mine. He told me that he didn’t need them back in a hurry because all he was listening to was grunge and death metal and Vader in particular. He played me some and it seemed ok. In 2005 I was working near San Francisco and at the weekend I went CD shopping. There was an album by Vader called The Beast, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was brilliant and I played it constantly and have since collected all of their albums and seen them live twice. Despite being from Poland, they have a traditional death metal sound tinged with New Wave of British Heavy Metal traits.
I read about Behemoth in Metal Hammer and bought their 2004 album Demigod. It was the heaviest thing I’d heard at the time, which isn’t surprising as Behemoth are heavily influenced by Morbid Angel. On the Demigod tour they played Leeds and Bradford on consecutive nights. Apparently Leeds to was packed, but Bradford, where I saw them, was almost empty. They were completely amazing. Also from Poland, Behemoth play what is described as blackened death metal. Behemoth have a vast back catalogue and have continued to release very strong albums since Demigod, especially 2014’s The Satanist. After their front man Nergal beat cancer they headlined Bloodstock and were incredible.
I don’t remember exactly how I got into Decapitated. They’re also from Poland and the chances are I bought their latest, at the time, album Organic Hallucinosis on the strength of Vader and Behemoth and due to the band being described as progressive in Metal Hammer. Every album is fantastic, heavy, technical death metal. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Arch Enemy were reasonably unique among death metal bands from their 2001 Wages of Sin album onwards in having a growling female singer. Also from Sweden, Arch Enemy’s appeal is their melodic death metal and the amazing guitar playing of Michael Amott. Doomsday Machine is by far their best album. It’s unfortunate that their three most recent albums have all been much the same, but it’s such a good sound it doesn’t really matter.
British band Carcass were an old school, unremarkable death metal band until their 1993 album Heartwork which was bolstered by Swedish guitarist Michael Amott. It had a cleaner more technical sound than their previous albums. Many people struggle with the growling vocals of death metal and as a teenager I struggled with Carcass in particular. Jeff Walker has a particularly cutting growel, but it’s a real grower. The band came back in 2013 with the incredible Surgical Steel album. I’ve seen them twice at Bloodstock once even with Michael Amott. They’re one of the death metal bands who are just going to get better and better.