Death may be the most athletic of metal subgenres. It is packed with unrelenting tremolo-picked guitar riffs and blast beats. You might consider the drummer the star of a death metal band; to play death, a drummer must conquer hypersonic tempi, with all four limbs in constant play.
Death originated in Florida during the late 1980′s, with the release of Seven Churches, by Possessed. Other groups from the area, including Morbid Angel, Death, Atheist, and Deicide, followed their lead. In the hands of its progenitors, death metal isolated and expanded on thrash’s most extreme characteristics. Thrash beats were fast; death is faster. Thrash vocalists sang or chanted with a little grit; death singers screeched raspily. Guitars were more distorted and deeply tuned than ever.
By the time Cannibal Corpse broke in the early 90′s, the predominant vocal style had settled into a much lower register, becoming the “cookie monster” growl we now associate with death metal:
At its inception, lyrical and visual themes in death metal were anti-theistic. Later, it seems the novelty of religious rebellion wore off; and morbidity became the central focus. Some critics attribute this to our innate fascination with our own mortality; others prefer a more direct explanation — that gore is entertainment. Death metal seeks, if not to become a slasher film soundtrack, to at least narrate the details.
Even if death isn’t the most listened-to metal style, I consider it to be metal’s nerve center. It perpetually maintains a following among the most serious of metal fans. It is at once a natural extension of thrash and a wellspring from which came today’s extreme styles. And it remains strongly represented. Here are one of my current favorites — a group that chooses Egyptology over bloody gore as its prevailing motif, named Nile: