Previously in this series on death metal, we discussed the early days of the genre and the different scenes and sounds that developed in cities like Tampa, Montreal, and New York. There was already an astounding variety at work, from the brutal and basic acts like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide to the serious technicality and musical theory of Atheist and Death. But as the 90s blazed onward, death metal would begin to splinter into an even greater variety of subgenres. It was obvious that there was more to this music than just an uninhibited focus on speed, aggression, and gore. Mainstream commercial success continued to elude it nonetheless.

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In the early 1990s, the death metal scene in the USA was booming in Tampa Bay, Florida. Extreme metal heavyweights like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide were spreading their wings with a new sound that was even heavier than the heaviest thrash metal. During this time, a band called Death was right in the thick of it; some even credit them with giving the genre its name. So-called “brutal death metal” was born.

But there was more going on within death metal than this newfound brutality or an obsession with who could play faster, or be more evil. Another sound called “technical death metal” was emerging too. Keeping traditional death metal elements like blast beats and harsh vocals, technical death metal has its name because it combines frequent changes of riffs, time signature and mood within the same song (a feature more commonly seen in progressive music). Off-beat rhythms, non-traditional song structures, a high degree of complexity and theory are the order of the day. It’s a kind of music that really rewards repeated close listening and can take a while to internalize, but is very rewarding when you do.

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Death metal is for many people the definition of what “heavy metal” is.

Remember Cannibal Corpse’s appearance in the last section on extreme metal? Although the mighty Corpse is one of death metal’s definitive groups, the death metal genre is incredibly diverse, and not all bands will sound like Cannibal Corpse. In general, death metal can be said to contain extremely fast riffing and drumming (called “blast beats”), as well as rough vocals. There are two styles of rough vocals: “Cookie Monster” and “Sandpaper.” The first is guttural, the latter is higher-pitched.

Broadly, death metal can be divided into 3 main subgenres: brutal death metal, technical death metal, and melodic death metal.

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Monday, Feburary 2nd, 2014 – Stage 48, New York, NY

It was one of the most brutal winters in the tri-state area in recent memory, enough that Dark Tranquillity seemed to bring the weather with them from their Swedish homeland.

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August 29th, 2014 – Jones Beach, Wantagh NY

Who’d have thought that Motley Crue would retire before Alice Cooper did?

Motley Crue was one of the first metal bands I ever heard, thanks to their song “Too Young To Fall In Love” from the Grand Theft Auto Vice City soundtrack. It had been almost 10 years since I first heard it, about 9 years since I picked up the Red White & Crue 2-disc best-of collection, and 4 years since I read The Dirt, which is still one of my top 10 most entertaining reads.

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Concert Review – Nile

November 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Don’t die,” my friends warn me.

My friends looked with trepidation at the black and red clad line of headbangers outside BB King’s, where they were dropping me off.

But I was already off towards the merch booth, eager to see what was on display for Nile’s 20th Anniversary tour. All those years ago, the South Carolinian band had started to find its niche in the competitive and increasingly-crowded death metal scene in the USA. Nowadays, ask a headbanger, “What’s that band that does all the songs about ancient Egypt?” and you’ll immediately get the answer, “NILE!” They truly are that unique.

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Like metal, the horror genre has had its moments of big mainstream success, but is largely a cult/underground pastime these days. Like metal, it’s attracted controversy and been the subject of censorship campaigns and bans (like on the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” still banned in some countries even today).

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In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I spent a lot of time talking about visual kei, a commercially successful, stylish,aggressive and uniquely Japanese take on existing Western metal. Bands like X Japan hit it big, placing a few visual kei groups among the biggest-selling metal bands of all time (and that’s globally). Although superstars in their own backyard, only a couple of these bands were able to replicate this success outside of Japan (although today, that may finally be changing…see my conclusion for that).

As with anything that gets popular, there would eventually be backlash. And in Japan’s case, this backlash would help fuel the development of an extreme metal underground scene.

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