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MetalheadFromBama

Death Metal 101?

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Just out of curiosity: If there was a course called Death Metal 101, what do you think it should cover? For starters, I think that the pioneers (Death, Possessed, Morbid Angel, etc.) should be covered, along with the bands that influenced them (Venom, Motorhead, King Diamond, etc.). 

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I've been listening to death metal for almost thirty years and I honestly don't know where I'd start with this. Although to be totally honest I'd start with Hellhammer just because:

 

If the point is to get people interested in DM and give them a jumping-off point, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. If the point is learning about the genre, the one thing I see overlooked most often is demo recordings of the early stages of a lot of different scenes. I don't have the knowledge to give a great overview of everything that was going on at the time - I didn't start really enjoying DM until 1993 or 94, by which time it was already a decade old - but I've gotten a lot out of just listening to what I can find of the early days. It's fine to talk about early albums like Seven Churches or Scream Bloody Gore, but they didn't happen in a vacuum. Seven Churches in particular gets a lot of props for being "the first death metal album" but there's a lot of early thrash influence in there and it's always sounded transitional to me, rather than being some pure essence of a new genre. Honestly the whole crop of essentialist arguments bothers me, especially when we're talking about the early days of these genres, but that's a different topic. Here's a Possessed demo recording called "Death Metal" from 1984:

 

Here's a Mantas demo called "Death By Metal" from the same year (they became the band we all know as Death and I've seen pictures of this demo with either name on it). This is more savage and "death-metally" IMO - not that thrash inflections are absent here, or that the comparatively polished sound and musicianship of Possessed don't have their place in the genre, but this is straight up heavier if you listen past the recording quality:

 

And here's something from Necrophagia's "Death Is Fun" demo, also from 1984:

 

By 1985, the year Seven Churches came out, there was more going on - here's "Rotting In Hell", a demo recording from R.A.V.A.G.E. (who later became Atheist), I love the energy and musicianship even if the sound is primitive:

 

Also in 1985, here's Xecutioner, later Executioner, who finally became Obituary, with a much more thrashy sound than the monolithic walloping they'd become known for a few years later:

 

Also 1985 - Sepultura's "Bestial Devastation" demo:

 

Here are a couple from 1986 - Morbid Angel - "Scream Forth Blasphemies":

 

Massacre - "Aggressive Tyrant" (featuring Kam Lee, who did the vocals on most of the Mantas demo above):

 

Lots of other bands got their start during this time and over the next couple of years, and there's no way I could list all of them, but here's a handful: Carcass and Paradise Lost in England; Darkthrone (yes, that Darkthrone, first making shitty recordings as Black Death) in Norway; Sarcofago and Mystifier in Brazil; Nihilist, Edge Of Sanity, and Grotesque in Sweden; Sinister and Asphyx in the Netherlands; Funebre and Abhorrence in Finland; Ripping Corpse, Malevolent Creation, Brutality, Nocturnus, Cynic, Deicide (as Amon), Revenant (members of whom would form Incantation), Immolation (as Rigor Mortis) in various parts of the USA... There's really no way I could do justice to a proper list of bands that were active before the huge surge of popularity that DM saw in the 90s, but my point is, the groundwork for that was being done years in advance, and full-length studio albums are just the tip of the iceberg.

 

After 1990 I wonder if it's better to go scene by scene (Finnish death metal, the Buffalo-Tampa connection, why everyone in Norway jumped ship for black metal) or style by style (prog/doom/brutal/melodic/technical) and explore the developments through either lens. There are also books and documentaries that deal with all of this and could probably have a lot more to offer than we could. If you're just looking for some good music and don't mind digging around, there are lots of great recommendations going back years in our stickied threads.

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