Magazine: WATT / Netherlands
Article: Zit er nog leven in death metal?

Written by: Robert Heeg
Published: April 1993


"We deliberately didn't flood the market with inferior death metal from Florida."

~Digby Pearsons, Earache~


"To me it seems too soon to declare death metal dead as an artform."

~Monte Conner, Roadrunner~


"I think it's over, done, finished."

~Scott Burns, Morrisound~


Reversed crosses, pentagrams, unreadable logo's, wild flying hair, dirty gobs, speed tempo, raw distorted guitars and above all lots of beer. Since a few years a summarize for "Death Metal", and for a moment it appeared this extreme kind of music would conquer the world........

Only a grump would lead the origin of death metal all the way back to Black Sabbath. A first actual design, where we can recognize elements of the present form, is not perceptible until the early eighties. The North English "Venom" melted down the easy going "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal" into a much more tremendous and dirty sound: Black Metal is born. The trio soon looses the initiative as the better American musicians of bands like Slayer and Metallica usher in the big trash wave of the 80ties. Most bands follow the clean, tight style of Metallica but there are also bands following the dark paths of Slayer and Venom. Especially the Californian Possessed and the Swiss Celtic Frost (former Hellhammer) may be seen as typical death metal pioneers. In the years following the extreme acts operate mainly in the shadow of the commercial speed metal of those days.

The tide turns in the mid eighties. The big four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) strengthen their position, but the following new bands can't prove their status. Many bands are canceled others try, in panic, to follow new trends. One of those trends is the rising death metal. Leading are the releases of Death (Scream Bloody Gore) in 1987, Morbid Angel (Altars of Madness), Sepultura (Beneath the Remains) and Obituary (Slowly We Rot) all from 1989. More than ever a genre gets followed. Companies like Roadrunner, Earache, Peacevill and Nuclear Blast sign up everything with an unreadable logo and soon the releases are countless.

The saturation was predictable as even as the weather forecast in the Sahara. In 1993 it's impossible to put in a death metal CD and guess what band it is. Boring uniformity ! Inevitable depression strikes as with the NWOBHM and the speed metal. How far it has advanced and whether death metal will get to the

CHUCK SCHULDINER (vocalist/guitarist of Death; Tampa,Florida)

Where else to start then with "Mr. Death" himself ? It's "evil" Chuck Schuldiner who harasses the underground scene with the most extreme demo's since 1984 and by means of the debut "Scream Bloody Gore" introduces a new way of eh.....singing: the death-grunt. Admirable is the way pioneer Schuldiner guarantees renewal every time. Also on the 5th, in May to be released, album Individual Thought Patterns. From the once praised but nowadays often abused death metal mekka, The Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida, we hear an enthusiastic Chuck. "This is my best material ever, there are more tunings and variation on it. You'll always hear progression with Death, I won't repeat myself. I hate it when my favorite bands do."

Call him the inventor of death metal and he feels flattered. "Of course I'm proud when being imitated, but the honor is all for Venom, definitely one of the first. I entered the scene right behind them and I'm lucky to have survived. I miss the old metal days, really, with bands like Mercyful Fate, Anvil, Raven, Exciter.... those were the days. All those bands had their own identity. Now it seems there's just one kind of metal in the underground, death metal. The fans are too confined in their taste, they won't see there's much more great music. Considered what's seen as death metal nowadays, I don't even play it anymore. I play loud metal, but it's not satanic noise."

To his present colleagues he rarely listens: "When I play anything at all it is Possessed or the old Slayer. I don't like what happens now, it has no originality. They have to stop imitating. You see the same happening in rock and rap, every market has it's problems. Who'll survive is a good question..... I Think those who watch others the least. Morbid Angel, Obituary and Death have an own identity, they'll make it for sure. It's always the same with trends. Many labels contracted death metal bands during the "boom" and realized later on they didn't succeed. That will also happen with grunge, it's a constant repeating cycle. The threatening in general of death metal, I think is worse. Metal has come into a critical stage and I'm on a crusade to save it. Let's unite and stop the downfall of metal."

MONTE CONNER (A&R-manager, Roadrunner; New York)

By letting countless starting bands release their cd's, mostly procuced by Scott Burns in Morrisound, between 1988 and 1991, Monte Conner may be seen as the genesis of the overwhelming offer we have today. 1993, however, seems to be getting the year when the accused can be death metals Nemesis. Conner has threatening promises for his young fry. "I see no future for the new bands. We'll drop half of them in 1993. There's no point anymore, sales drop and the bands have nothing new. The problem is when companies see the success of the others they all want to benefit from it. When we came with Obituary and Sepultura in May 1989, those CD's were refreshing and exciting. Roadrunner proved this genre was still alive and that there was a market for it. Next, every act was signed up and caused a surplus. Let's be honest: death metal stays underground music. The biggest hits today in the US are Obituary, Deicide and maybe Napalm Death, and they have reached the ceiling with selling 80-100.000 copies. The market stays small but the number of bands is growing. Nowadays 70 bands are battling for the same audience 6 bands used to do. That's why many can't survive."

It looks like the pot is calling the kettle black. But Monte partly explains why the avalanche of Roadrunner releases. "We were the company that gave this genre a second chance and we were right. I can't blame Roadrunner, we didn't dive at a trend, we created one and we're allowed to, aren't we? It didn't mean every signed band was good. I won't mention names but I admit that some bands were just signed because death metal was big and I wanted more bands. We have some of the best death metal acts of the world at Roadrunner, but at the same time some very medium ones. It was the same story with trash: eventually only the Big Four stayed alive. Despite of the fact death metal has had its top and is slowly vanishing, I believe that the pioneers like Death, Morbid Angel, Pestilence and Napalm Death will survive. It's too soon to declare death metal dead as an art form, there still is a market, but for a new band coming in March 1993 it's very hard to come up with something that will impress. The future will be industrial: watch Treponem Pal, Skin Chamber, Godflesh and Fear Factory. On new death metal field we only bring James Murphy's Disincarnate, because he's so talented and Cynic becaused they were signed up two years ago and still are overcoming the genre."

It's marked that the name Scott Burns, once sort of Roadrunners house producer, appears less on the inlays. "You paid attention," Conner laughs. "We discovered him and he did some great work but you shouldn't as a label, or as a band, stick too long with one producer. The next Obituary will not be done by Scott. Our friendship has suffered from it, I think he didn't see what we were doing and he took it very personal."


SCOTT BURNS (producer, Morrisound Studio's; Tampa,Florida)

Along with the crisis comes the scapegoat and as the producer with farout the most death metal credits behind his name the by the way, very sympathetic Scott Burns seems to be the victim. All of his products are being welcomed by reporters the last few years with a complaining:"Not a Scott Burns album again!" Steadily they are increasing. "Don't take it personal but most journalists can lick my ass!" he says angrily. "For some time Colin Richardson (Earache-RH) was in, and now he's been let down again. I just do my job, I haven't asked for it to be praised or crucified. It's not only the journalists but also the labels, it's all about trends. Monte and I are still good friends but he's one of the guys that jumps at a trend. As for certain things it's better our ways split because we differ to much in our opinions. I really don't understand them in New York. It's like they don't realize that I'm a human being with feelings. My attitude is: I just stay here in Tampa, I talk to nobody and I'm happy. It was nice when everybody loved me and sometimes it's disturbing to see how they put me down now. It often gets more attention than the other bands I produce. I have offered once to withdraw my name off the inlays, but it stays my job. If I were Rich Rubin at the moment everybody would respect me. People are so trendy in their opinions."

Still Scott also sees no future in death-metal. "I think it's over, finished, done. There are no good new bands, the stealing is shameless, four or five bands will survive the rest will disappear."

There is no lack of work at Morrisound. "Warrant recorded here, Savatage also and a week ago Bon Jovi called to mix some stuff for a live EP. We even didn't have time for them because Morbid Angel and Death were already here. No, the studio will survive and I have some projects on the stocks that will show another side of me. I hope I didn't sound too negative because that's not the way I am."

DIGBY PEARSONS (owner Earache; Nothingham,England)

With market leaders Morbid Angel and Napalm Death at home, Earache can be seen as the biggest rival of Roadrunner. Boss and fan Digby ("Dig" for friends) Pearsons actually points, unlike Monte Conner, towards Roadrunner when we are talking about flooding the market. "They made the mistake to sign up too many bands in too short a period, and now they see they haven't all got the same life span. That's because they don't have the originality of the first bands in this genre. We have always tried to restrict ourselves to the best acts and the re-newers. We deliberately didn't flood the market with inferior death metal bands from Florida. We resisted the temptation, Roadrunner could not. We easy could have signed up more bands, Deicide sent us demos as well. To me it's completely logical that only 5 or 6 bands can survive and become real popular, maybe even as popular as Metallica or Slayer. The new Big Four will rise: Obituary, Morbid Angel, Death and with a little luck Entombed" (he laughs hopeful, because the Swedish Entombed can easy be called one of Earaches biggest talents-RH). "We shall also be dropping bands, for example Nocturnus; their first CD,"The Key", was a classic, but for some reason the successor, "Thresholds", failed. Roadrunner will experience the same with second albums of Gorguts, Immolation, Suffocation etc..... The big wave is over."

Earache always invested in future sounds to steel themselves. Pearsons hopes this courage will be rewarded in '93. "Never stand still, music is always moving, always evolving. We try to present new styles as soon as possible. We already have for some time industrial bands like Godflesh and Pitch Shifter. It looks like they are finally being accepted. In the beginning they said: "Shit, they have no drummer, it never can be real music!" Haha. Other tips for the coming year: the new Cathedral is a monster and watch the new Steel that goes with a 70ties sound. Maybe Brutal Truth will break through in '93. We flow with the time, everything stays a gamble. But for bands making a demo in the Deicide-style and hoping to gain a record deal next week the scene really is dead. There are just too many, I've got lots of tapes to prove it."


(singer/guitarist Pestilence; Enschede,The Netherlands)

Never minding to give his straight opinion (like recently in the Dutch special of MTV's Headbangers Ball) and therefore, wrongly, often called arrogant. Patrick Mameli actually has a vision and at the moment the death metal genre doens't fit in at all. "Times have changed, I saw it coming years ago", he sighs. "So many bands and not one with an own identity. The market smells commerce and then you get such a "boom", but there always has to be renewal, we must get rid of the short-sightedness."

Pestilence give their contribution by making, on their album in April to be recorded, the necessarily changes and move their borders. "The fans mustn't misunderstand, I don't renounce them. Pestilence grew and I hope they also did. The guitars stay heavy, but the vocals may get "weird". I may actually even sing ! We don't listen to death metal anymore, I've lost touch with that scene. We are more into jazz now, that's timeless music. A jazz concert is very different, while drinking and eating a bit you can relaxed enjoy the music. I also play for the people in the back that listen to a good solo, not for the drunks in front of the stage just coming to get drunk and lay on the floor like tramps. That may go down the wrong way by some fans but even when I make this kind of music I'm entitled to have my opinion?"

Patricks expectations of '93: "Chuck will survive! Obituary must take care they don't repeat themselves too much and Morbid Angel will sell a few albums if they take good care of things. Otherwise it's done. In the future it will come from another direction. On every action follows reaction, I expect it to be a more soft kind of music with more meaning."

ROB TROMMELEN (tour promoter, Background Agency; Kaatsheuvel,The Netherlands)

When you take a look at the death metal tour agenda there's no mistake about it that Rob Trommelen got most of the bands to our country (Netherlands/YK). To the specter of the inevitable depression he's got one reaction; "Bullshit! You hear it a lot, but death metal isn't over yet at all. In January I've had good tours: Fear Factory, Tiamat and Unleashed did OK while Gorefest and The Gathering did very well. It becomes more difficult, that's true, as well for me as a promoter as for the fans to pick out the good ones. There are too many releases from bad companies, but quality pays off, the good bands will survive. Especially when you compare death metal with other genres, it's still doing good. Bands like Skrew and O.L.D. are hot by the programmers, but the tours they do gather about 30 to 40 people a gig. With any death metal band it's at least 100. In Germany death metal just started. Acts like Deicide are playing for 900 people. No, the kids won't let go, the underground is just too strong."

1993 : Year of mourning?

Summarizing we can put that 1993 will be the year of truth for a lot of acts. The countless young followers will be tearing, with large numbers, their deals to pieces this year. The Big Four will strenghten their position. Who will that be? For certain Death, Morbid Angel and Obituary. Sepultura claims they no longer play death metal and Napalm Death is more in the grindcore corner. Maybe the top of the world will be joined by a Dutch band. Pestilence and Gorefest are candidates and The Gathering will be joining Paradise Lost as leaders of the "gothic-doom"current. The recession in lable-land will not be felt at the live front in '93. For many fans a death metal gig is an enjoyable evening out, more than a gig of their favorites. With the slogan: "no matter who's on stage as long as I can dive from it,", a lot of gigs will be well visited still.

All in all, the '93 events will be working in advantage of the fans, they will benefit clarity. A rigorous "decreased" scene where quality survives will be more attractive than the current chaos. Death metal dead? It's too late for that. Ever tried shooting a zombie?


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Translated by YK/AS for EmptyWords-Published on March 31 1999