Magazine: Rock Hard / Germany
Article: Vom totalen Underground in die
Charts und wieder zurück: Der Death Metal

Written by: Frank Albrecht
Published: December 2001, Record Mania #2




The History of Death Metal

At the end of the 80's the heavy metal scene went through a revolution once and for all. The classic dinosaurs like Maiden, Priest, Saxon, Def Leppard or Helloween had hit creative lows, the glam scene was dead and minimal inspiration was coming from thrash. On the other hand two new movements arose in the underground: on one side: the alternative Grunge-Rock-movement, on the other side: death metal.

Death metal had already been born in the early 80's. Who exactly invented this music style is hardly to be argued nowadays. Personally I stumbled across over the term death metal when Possessed put a song of the same name on their debut disc Seven Churches, which appeared in 1985. One year earlier however, in Florida, there were two bands, Massacre and Death, that had recorded their first demos. With their hellish, badly played yet cult noise, they secured the first recordings regarded as "death metal."

Death metal nevertheless stayed totally underground for the coming years. Chuck Schuldiner, with his legendary chapel Death already got himself a record deal in the mid 80's and released the 1987 debut, Scream Bloody Gore. This album appeared at the perfect time, because the lovers of extreme metal sounds had gone without for quite some time. The golden days of Venom were long gone. Possessed had reached their end, and even Motörhead (back then one of the heaviest bands around) were not really showing top form. It's no wonder Scream Bloody Gore came as a complete shock and started a lively battle in the underground. On the smallest labels, singles were being released of bands of the same sort. In England the British radio moderator John Peel took the first attempts to try to bring English noise combos to the vinyl market through the John Peel sessions, and with Earache a firm was on the Island that started with semi-professional distribution structures to get debut pieces on the market from acts like Morbid Angel, Entombed or Napalm Death.

The Godfather of the scene: Chuck Schuldiner (Death)

Now things really started going. Out of the American death metal mecca Florida bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Obituary, Malevolent Creation and Atheist started crawling out, soon joined by the Buffalo Cannibal Corpse, while on the other side the Swedes formed out of ancient death metal bands Nihilist and Carnage, new acts like Unleashed, Dismember or even Entombed.

England followed well over a year later after combos like Carcass, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and Benediction, let go of their grind and crustcore roots and went more and more into the direction of death metal. The movement gained momentum, and top acts out of this scene could easily sell 40,000 pieces in Germany alone, Obituary even broke the 100,000 mark in America.

Bands out of Central Europe as of yet limped a bit behind; certain was that next to the British Earache label and the Dutch Roadrunner, mainly the German record labels were being supportive to death metal and helped build it. Century Media and Nuclear Blast put numerous acts on the metal map and with that became successful rivals of the up till then leading independent labels, which were ignoring this scene completely. Pretty quickly in the heart of Europe also developed a powerful band scene. Pestilence, Morgoth, Gorefest, Pungent Stench, Massacra and Asphyx are merely a few names to be named in this context.

Around the year 1993 the death metal experienced its most commercially viable period, but as often happens with good running trends, the market got flooded with releases of mediocre profiteers. Record labels that missed out on the opportunity in the beginning days were hoping to get their share; new labels thought they could enter into the death metal market. In short: the total saturation wasn't far away and ultimately in the mid 90's the wheat was seperated from the chaff. Many combos disappeared as quickly as they arised. Others changed their style, just a few established bigs like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Hypocrisy, Bolt Thrower and Dismember stayed loyal to death metal without making compromises.

However it would not take long before death metal lived a renaissance again. While at the end of the 90's black metal took the lead, for example in Göteborg some sneaks rigged up the traditional death metal sound and developed a quite melodic variant. Next to At the Gates, bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquility can also be seen as pioneers. Meanwhile in the USA a scene arised with bands with a strong preference towards grind elements, but melted this together with simple and affective groove-parts, Dying Fetus and Mortician have to be named as advocates. And with Six Feet Under there appears to be a group that has a large commercial potential.

This healthy reduction without any doubt, was very good for the scene. In the beginning of the new millenium there's at least a well balanced mixture of older scene veterans who still can take care for new creative heights, and a very vital underground with fresh ideas taking care of an important role for the death metal once again.



place 174 of 300

Death's fourth album in 1991 drove swarms of gapping-jawed patients to therapists. Mastermind Chuck Schuldiner and his excellent, technical colleagues Paul Masvidal (g), Steve DiGiorgio (b) and Sean Reinert (dr) cross-breeded brutal death metal with progressive elements, till they almost broke their fingers over it. Gone were the days in which death metal was primarily created fast and hot off the press.

Death unlocked innovative dimensions, and with their alarming and atmospheric pieces, moved the soul and sparked apocalyptic visions on the horizon.

Lack Of Comprehension is the most intense earwig ever in death metal and the chickenskin instrumental Cosmic Sea sounds like a twisted Pink Floyd. Schuldiner passed up the oportunity for a big break-through, cancelling tours at the last minute (once his colleagues even came to Europe without him), but on following albums ("Individual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic") he would prove his compositional genius once again.

The short-lived Masvidal/Reinert project Cynic, would show that Schuldiner's comrades are no less talented, releasing the great Ambient-Metal-Album Focus in 1993.

Michael Rensen


place 112 of 300

Nowadays Death is synonymous for a playful, progressive form of death metal, making heavy demands on technique. But that hasn't always been the case. The first two pieces of the combo around the extremely obstinate band leader Chuck Schuldiner, offer death metal in its most primitive and comprehensable form. On the second piece of work Leprosy Chuck Schuldiner brought this sound to perfection.

The guitarist / singer / songwriter inflames an inferno of deadly riffs, and the songs are arranged so that other instruments are just being ornamental. Bassist Terry Butler merely plays parallel with the guitar riffs, while drummer Bill Andrews actually only has to concentrate on the pure rhythm work on the snare, hi-hat and the bass drum; sparkling breaks and fills are hardly to be heard. Whether this was planned to work like this will probably remain Schuldiners secret forever, but it certainly was very effective.

Not for nothing Leprosy is one of the most influentual classics of the death metal genre, evergreens like "Pull The Plug", "Open Casket" or the title track still are counted among the pillars of every Death show, from which there will hopefully be many before long - hoping that Chuck overcomes his severe illness as soon as possible.

Frank Albrecht


to talks

Translated by KK/YK/MM for EmtyWords-Published on November 28 2001