Death Metal Music – The Passion and Politics of a Subculture

Heavy metal music evokes powerful emotions. It fosters relationships among fans while uniting social outcasts.

Music’s aggressive, antisocial themes may trigger moral panic among community groups, parents and political leaders (Walser, 2013).

Possessed and Morbid Angel were pioneers of death metal’s early days when it comes to creating fast drumming with deeper growling vocals – creating an instant classic genre which still attracts an underground following today.


Possessed, Death and Carcass advanced thrash metal to extreme new levels in the early 80s with death metal, creating brutal, abrasive music known as death metal. This gave birth to many subgenres of death metal such as melodic death metal (known as ‘Gothenburg-style’ music thanks to At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity), power metal (Kamelot’s March of Mephisto), progressive death metal (Opeth’s Blackwater Park), progressive death metal (Opeth’s Blackwater Park), technical death metal (Meshuggah’s Bleed).

Death metal music is characterized by heavily distorted guitars played with techniques such as palm muting, tremolo picking and low tuning combined with deep growling vocals and double kick blast beat drumming. It typically includes dark lyrics as well as an aggressive musical style consisting of tempo changes, minor keys, atonality and complex rhythms; keyboards, acoustic guitars and electronic effects may also feature. A typical band setup for death metal usually comprises two guitarists, bassist and drummer.

Extreme musical genres such as metal are particularly suited to live performance, thanks to its intense music style which creates powerful and energetic live shows. Indeed, many metal bands boast dedicated and passionate fans due to this very factor.

Modern death metal bands continue to push the limits of this genre, often by incorporating elements from other genres into their music. Archspire from Vancouver blend intricate guitar work with saxophone solos and atmospheric soundscapes on their 2017 release Relentless Mutation; Rivers of Nihil from Reading Pennsylvania combine jazz, classical music and progressive rock for an astounding musical experience.

Other examples of modern death metal include IMMOLATION, who combine brutal aggression with technicality and old-school death metal on their latest release ‘Cosmic Horror’. Danish band BAEST take an older approach but still manage incredible speed with their intense brand of death metal.


Throughout the 1990s, death metal saw an explosive proliferation of subgenres with strong underground followings. Blackened death metal and technical death metal are two particularly popular subgenres, although both genres remain distinct from each other; nonetheless many bands straddle both styles successfully to produce unique trademark sounds that stand out among peers.

Melodic death metal is a subgenre of death metal music characterized by melodic riffing, harmonic progressions and chord progressions that incorporate melodies. Additionally, its hallmark characteristics include abrupt changes in tempo, key signature changes and time signature as well as chromatic guitar playing. Most often performed using standard rock band setups of two guitarists, bassist and drummer; however some bands use keyboard or synthesizer effects for additional effects.

Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel were pioneers of Grindcore music during its infancy; this style combines aggressive Death Metal sounds with rapid pace playing, deep growled vocals, and lyrics focused on blood and guts.

More recently, many bands have taken a more melodic approach to death metal. Kataklysm are one such band which employ this approach in order to showcase their particular musical identity; boasting 14 studio albums and an international fan base as a result, Kataklysm stand as an impeccable example of this style of mixing musical genres.

Grindcore-inspired one-upmanship was an early precursor of Death Metal and saw some thrash metal bands go even further in their efforts to differentiate themselves and establish themselves as the “meanest, scariest and gnarliest” band available. This eventually gave birth to melodic death metal as well as more extreme genres like grindcore that feature fast tempos with ultra-distorted guitars and deep growled vocals.

Death metal music continues to thrive today with numerous bands producing powerful tunes and amassing an avid following. Additionally, this genre is becoming more widely accepted with fans of other heavy metal genres, and may eventually enter mainstream rock as more varied styles emerge in music production.


Death metal music draws inspiration from punk rock, black metal, thrash metal and other extreme forms of heavy metal music. Instruments usually used include two guitars (typically heavily distorted), bass and drums with guitarists typically employing techniques such as palm muting or tremolo picking to add an extreme sound; vocals tend to be harsh with bands often using feedback loops for added intensity.

Death metal bands first rose to prominence during the early 1980s. Cassette tape trading and strong underground following helped Possessed, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Obituary gain prominence through cassette trading and underground followings. By the end of the decade more bands had joined this scene such as Carcass and Entombed from Sweden as well as Death, Bolt Thrower Napalm Death and Revocation from America.

As death metal became increasingly popular, its subgenres expanded. Technical death metal, more commonly referred to as tech death, is an advanced style with complex song structures and advanced musicianship – often featuring double bass blast beats, tempo changes, odd time signatures and complex guitar patterns.

Melodeath is another death metal subgenre to emerge during this era, blending melodic death metal and thrash metal together, with more emphasis placed on melodic death metal than on thrash metal. Popular among modern death metal bands such as Children of Bodom and Soilwork.

Fit for an Autopsy’s unique sound is created through its mixture of styles and atmospheric elements; for instance, they use crushing breakdowns and haunting vocals to distinguish themselves from their contemporaries.

Some may find the themes of death metal music disturbing, including gore, horror, Satanism, murder and antireligion; while others enjoy its intense sound. Meanwhile, other revel in its musical challenge. Death metal music can be very complex to listen to with intricate riffs and time signatures that may be difficult to follow but has an avid and dedicated following of fans that support its genre.


Death metal music often features themes of violence, horror and darkness. The genre is best-known for its low-tuned guitars distorted with distortion effects and growled vocals as well as complex song structures with abrupt tempo changes, key changes and time signature changes. Guitar solos may include chromatic progressions or tremolo picking; bass players typically employ techniques like palm muting or pulsing while drummers typically provide fast rhythmic patterns which often include blast beats; together these create an overall sound foundation while guitarists use riffing and arpeggios to construct complex rhythmic arrangements.

Death metal’s roots can be traced back to the 1980s thrash metal scene, with bands like Venom and Slayer acting as precursors. Their combined fast thrash metal with tone-deaf lyrics to form what would eventually become one subgenre of heavy metal music.

While death metal may appear violent to some audiences, its musicians are generally peaceful individuals looking for an outlet to express themselves through music. Their goal isn’t necessarily violent expression but pushing the limits of what’s considered normal as they push death metal further towards extremeness with each genre release and subgenre evolution.

Death/thrash metal bands combine the fast pace of thrash metal with the intensity of death metal to create bands with high energy mosh pit performances, while death doom combines doom’s slow tempo with growls and blast beats from death metal for an atmospheric and dark soundscape.

Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse and Archspire are among the most celebrated death metal bands of today. Behemoth began as a black metal band in 1991 before transitioning into death metal during the late ’90s; their interest in occultism and Satanism have led them to criminal charges and bans in their home country Poland. Cannibal Corpse have sold two million records; their use of Satanic imagery as album cover art has become synonymous with death metal in general. Other bands such as Rivers of Nihil and Obscura have challenged its boundaries through technical mastery and revolutionary polyrhythms.