Extreme Metal is an umbrella term used to describe a number of different Metal sub-genres, such as Black Metal, Grindcore, Death Metal, and the sub-genres that can be associated with those sub-genres. Extreme Metal spawned from early Heavy Metal and 80s Thrash Metal and pushed the aggressive nature of these genres to produce something that was far more chaotic. The main different between these genres and Extreme Metal is the all round sense of evil and violence bolstered by this chaotic musical aggression with much darker themes that the other Metal genres wouldn't dare to explore. The main sonic characteristics of Extreme Metal are intense fast drumming, heavily distorted electric guitars that utilise dissonant notes, yelled/shrieked vocals, and chaos. The goal of Extreme Metal is to go beyond what was socially acceptable both musically and lyrically, not that Metal in general is socially accepted but these genres went even further to repulse the people of popular culture.
Death Metal emerged around 1987 and forged a sound that was technical, used chromatic notes in song writing and deep sounding guttural vocals of which was popularised by bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Carcass, and Dismember (Phillipov, 2012, p18). Death Metal in the 1980s was known for having some of the heaviest guitar tones with the use of down tuning, scooped amp settings (removing mid range whilst boosting low and high frequencies), and more prolific palm muting. The song structure is also different from other musical genres where there isn't specific sections such as verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, they are mostly comprised of different series of riffs which add on to each other. These riff section are usually so intense that they don't provide much musical space in the songs with all of the instruments and other elements coming together to produce a singular wall of sound, or noise. (Phillipov, 2012, p106)
The album that is first considered to be Death Metal is called Scream Bloody Gore by the band Death.
Although this album doesn't have the trademark guttural vocals or some of the more technical guitaring it set the standard for aggression and brutality that would later come to define the genre (Phillipov, 2012, p18).
("Death-Scream Bloody Gore", 2009)
One of the genres most notorious bands is Cannibal Corpse with there first 2 albums critical in the formation of the modern Death Metal sound, not only did they push the boundaries of musical technicality they brought about some of the most extreme lyrical content as well that became a staple for the genre (Phillipov, 2012, p143).
Gutted is a song from their second album Butchered at Birth released in 1991 ("Cannibal Corpse - Butchered At Birth", 2019) shows all of the main aspects that define Death Metal, highly distorted guitars, multiple changes in pace between slow chugging guitars to fast blistering passages that have no defined tonality or musicality to them. The
guitar tone is excessively scooped making the
("Cannibal Corpse - Gutted", 2013) high distortion sound even more piecing adding to the dissonant sound. The vocals are low and guttural of which I would find hard that anyone could understand what was actually being said. The drums use the typical Death Metal blast beat in the faster sections which is the the Kick drum played at straight 16th notes with the Snare and Hats/Ride played on alternating 16th notes. This is used to produce a brutal percussive feel that pummels the listener. All these elements come together to produce a really good representation of what the death metal sound is, extreme, heavy and in your face.
Looking at another influential Death Metal band Decide show more or less the same elements in their songs. The title track from their 2004 album Scars of the Crucifix ("Deicide - Scars Of The Crucifix", 2019)
which is 13 years older than the Cannibal Corpse song but it possesses much of the same sonic characteristics resulting in a relatively
raw and unpolished song. This rawness gives
("Deicide - Scars Of The Crucifix", 2012) the song an even darker and chaotic feel by accentuating this sense of not knowing what is actually going on in, there is nothing tangible to grab hold of and listen to, just extreme distortion and those straight up brutal vocals. This song has more focus on the vocals than that of the Cannibal Corpse song, a factor that changes a lot between different Death Metal bands, some times they push the guitars forward in the mix leaving little space for vocals and other the guitars are further back in the mix providing more space for the vocals. This is purely an artistic choice by different bands and neither one is really more right or wrong than the other.
All up Death Metal is a raw and extreme sub-genre that is fast paced, distorted and in your face with its most defining feature being the low guttural vocal style. The genre was kept evolving branching off into multiple other sub-genres one of which I will be discussing later on.
The beginnings of the Black Metal genre took place between 1991 and 1994 and was produced by bands primarily residing in Norway such as Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal and Mayhem. It developed as a reaction against the commercialisation of Death Metal and strived to get back to and even rawer sound than what was already being produced at the time. Another thing that separates these 2 genres is the philosophical background that surrounds Black Metal and the creation of and even more shocking aesthetic than what Death Metal was portraying with a heavy anti-christian and satanic focus. The main sonic characteristics of this genre are high pitch shrieking vocals, little to no low end frequency content, and an incredibly raw if not out right terrible production quality. The songs are a lot more simplistic and less technical than that of Death Metal relying on more of an evil atmosphere than having hard hitting aggressive brutality. (Kalis, 2004)
Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky released in 1992 ("Darkthrone - A Blaze In The Northern Sky", 2019) is a good representation of what the typical Black Metal sound is. First up are the guitars with possess a basically none existent tone, they are super distorted and shrill with absolutely now power behind them, I would say they sound like cheep 10 watt practices amps being pushed to the max. The drums are go between frantic blast beats to simple rock beats with excessive use of cymbals that are incredibly bright and harsh. The shrieked vocals have an extreme amount of reverb making them sound like they are singing in some kind of dark and evil cave mixed together with everything else to produce a truly raw and distinctive sound.
From this early Black Metal sound bands came a more refined sound which could be considered to be a better musical representation of the genre. Emperor's Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk released in 1997 ("Emperor (2) - Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk", 2019) clearly shows the progression and development of the genre into something that is all for one a lot more audible.
This album is more technical than the early style of Black Metal and actually has a somewhat decent production quality. The guitars have more tone almost similar to that of early Cannibal Corpse with scooped mids and high distortion. The drums are using blast beats a lot more than any other band I have mentioned previously with this style of drumming literally going on throughout the
("Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky", 2011) whole song except for later 3rd of the song which is considerable slower. This constant blast beat just produces a wall of drum sound that is inescapable along with guitars that are played as frantically with basically straight 16th notes throughout the song as well until the slower end section of the song. The most different thing between these 2 Black Metal songs is Emperors use of keyboards and clean singing which help to produce a more atmospheric sound than early Black Metal. All of these elements in general come together to produce a wall of noise that is more atmospheric than brutal in the case of Death Metal.
Black Metal started of super raw sounding than evolved to become something more refined and a lot easier to listen to, I have been listening to Extreme Metal for a long time now and even I find it intolerable to listen to early Black Metal music, the style of Emperor is a lot more palatable. A popular sub-genre of Black Metal is Symphonic Black Metal which use keyboards even more to produce a more "symphonic" and epic sound but that's a blog for a different day.
Technical Death Metal
Technical Death Metal or Tech Death can be described as a fusion between Death Metal, prog-rock and jazz, and was inspired by the technicality and musicianship of the band Death with this more technical and musically complicated style of song writing which (Freeman, 2019).
I like to think of Tech Death as a progressive version of Death Metal, with greater musical intricacy played at bpm's faster than what should be humanly possible with songs trying to fit in as many notes as possible. There are 2 bands that can be attributed to starting the Tech Death genre which are Atheist and Cynic.
Piece of Time by Atheist released in 1989 ("Atheist - Piece Of Time", 2019) perfectly encapsulates this notion of a progressive Death Metal jazz fusion with changing time signatures drum patterns that are heavily groove based, melodic guitars that actually play to scales and don't have dissonant tonalities and multiple changing sections throughout the song. The drum patterns are a
("Atheist-Piece Of Time", 2008) lot more chaotic and less straightforward than that of typical Death Metal which adds to this sense of not really knowing whats coming next. The song is just infinitely more technical and progressive than what is typically considered to be Death Metal, in saying that they have traded this technical and progressive nature for some of the brutality that Death Metal is known for.
Continuing on from Atheist the band Necrophagist with there album Onset Of Putrefaction released in 1999 ("Necrophagist - Onset Of Putrefaction", 2019) produced a sound that was both mind-bendingly technical whilst being bone crushingly brutal which is the pure embodiment of what Tech Death is supposed to be. Out of all of the Extreme Metal songs shown in this blog this song
("Necrophagist - Fermented Offal Discharge", 2013) Fermented Offal Discharge is by far the most well produced, it's cynically clean sounding with a great emphasis on clarity and separation between all of the instruments so every single painstakingly played note can be heard. There is so much going on in this song it's difficult to know where to start but I think a good place is the guitar solo section starting at 3:01 which sounds more like a neo-classical piece that Death Metal. The guitar tone is clear and not overly distorted, the vocals are that of the brutal low guttural kind we like, the drums play along with the speed of the guitars and help to accentuate the ferocity of the guitar patterns.
Fermented Offal Discharge is a representation of the more melodic side of Tech Death but there are also bands that push the boundaries of speed and brutality even further like Nile.
Hittite Dung Incantation from the album Those Whom the Gods Detest released in 2009 ("Nile (2) - Those Whom The Gods Detest", 2019) is a fast song, I worked out with a metronome it to be around a mere 270bpm. This song has more distorted guitars than the previous song but they still have clarity to them and fill out the sound a lot more. The drums sound like machine guns when they are playing blast beat
("Hittite Dung Incantation", 2018) patterns due to the unfathomably quick tempo, this is something that is very typical of newer Tech Death where bands are playing at these tempos more and more. Again like all Death Metal there is the ever present guttural vocals. This song goes back to more of the dissonant style of Death Metal song composition which further enhances the brutal nature of the song.
Looking at both song by Nile and Necrophagist they can seem to be very similar and different at the same time, they are both fast and technical with intricate drums and guitars and brutal guttural vocals but Fermented Offal Discharge is definitely more melodic and has greater emphasis on the neo-classical side of guitar composition where Hittite Dung Incantation focuses more on raw speed and power with less melodic dissonant melodies. They are both considered Technical Death Metal despite their differences as they are both technical and Death Metal, this is what makes this genre so diverse and interesting as there are a plethora of bands who's style lie somewhere between the sound of these 2 bands whilst some go further to either side of the melodic or dissonant spectrum. Some bands incorporate both of these factors into their song writing but at the end of the day it's all Tech Death.
Conclusion on Extreme Metal
After all of this it can be seen that Extreme Metal is exactly what it says it is, an extremely extreme version of the Heavy Metal genre with harsh and dirty vocals, heavily distorted guitars, frantic drums, and most of the time little to no bass. Extreme Metal takes everything that has come before it and keeps on pushing it further and further until you end up with bands like Nile who play some of the fastest and most extreme music in the world and there is not a shortage of bands like them either. I purposely didn't go into the lyrical style of these Extreme Metal band as it can vary wildly, take Nile for instance they sing about ancient Egypt which is vastly different to Cannibal Corpse and sing about brutally ripping people to pieces and then doing unspeakable things to their corpses. They main thing that makes Extreme Metal vocals is that they are screamed and distorted in some way, the lyrical content is of little importance seeing as most of the time you can't understand what is actually being said.
Andrew, J. (2015). Origins of Evil: The Birth of Extreme Metal. Retrieved from https://metalinjection.net/editorials/origins-of-evil-the-birth-of-extreme-metal
Atheist-Piece Of Time. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZ6b4DrMz2g
Atheist - Piece Of Time. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Atheist-Piece-Of-Time/master/52601
Cannibal Corpse - Butchered At Birth. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Cannibal-Corpse-Butchered-At-Birth/master/18268
Cannibal Corpse - Gutted. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mchE0nRHf-c
Darkthrone - A Blaze In The Northern Sky. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Darkthrone-A-Blaze-In-The-Northern-Sky/master/5558
Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un2zVoG3NiE
Death-Scream Bloody Gore. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHuqcVAaIN8
Deicide - Scars Of The Crucifix. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Deicide-Scars-Of-The-Crucifix/release/566429
Deicide - Scars Of The Crucifix. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l-OiglL460
Emperor (2) - Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Emperor-Anthems-To-The-Welkin-At-Dusk/master/12653
Freeman, P. (2019). THE HIGH HAT | POPS&CLICKS: The Man-Machine Will Rock You. Retrieved from http://thehighhat.com/PopsClicks/007/deathmetal_freeman.html
Hittite Dung Incantation. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y672JEC2ypg
Kalis, Q. (2004). CoC : Rant : Black Metal: A Brief Guide. Retrieved from
Necrophagist - Fermented Offal Discharge. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYnuXnuaFNY
Necrophagist - Onset Of Putrefaction. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Necrophagist-Onset-Of-Putrefaction/master/118919
Nile (2) - Those Whom The Gods Detest. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Nile-Those-Whom-The-Gods-Detest/master/195877
Phillipov, M. (2012). Death metal and music criticism : Analysis at the limits. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com