Death metal is widely regarded as one of the most aggressive, technical, and visceral forms of music. Characterised by guttural vocals, distorted and down-tuned guitars, rapid double-bass drumming, and complex song structures, death metal emerged in the mid-1980s as an extreme offshoot of the genre of heavy metal.
Its lyrics and iconography (including band logos and album covers) typically depict themes of horror and gore, environmental destruction, political corruption, blasphemy and social decay.
Death metal bands with a heavy dosage of anti-Christian statements, particularly Tampa, Florida’s Deicide (formerly Carnage and later renamed to Amon before adopting the current name which stands for “the killer of a god” in 1989), have sparked considerable controversy among political and religious groups and have been banned in several countries.
Heavy metal “scenes” have played a particularly important role in the development and evolution of death metal. Most notably, the two distant locations of Tampa, Florida and Gothenburg, Sweden have served as the most influential scenes throughout the genre’s twenty-year history.
In 1983, Tampa became the birthplace of death metal when the group Mantas (which later changed its name to Death) released its first demo cassette. This primitive recording was circulated throughout the underground metal cassette tape trading circuit, and in turn spawned several bands from the Tampa area, most importantly Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Deicide.
By the early 1990s, death metal had gained international popularity, and new scenes began to emerge. Most prominent among these were Stockholm and (especially) Gothenburg, Sweden where bands such as Entombed, Dismember, At The Gates, and In Flames combined the aggressiveness of the “Tampa sound” with the melodic European metal of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and others.
This particular style of death metal, which has been labelled the “Gothenburg sound,” typically focuses less on themes of horror and gore and instead addresses societal and philosophical issues including media manipulation, political corruption, and hopelessness.
The end of the 1960s, heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple emerged from large urban centres (mostly in England, particularly Birmingham and London) with a fast, sinister, blues-influenced sound.
These groups played with some of the most highly charged themes available in western cultures such as the occult, sexual excess, and substance abuse, which attracted condemnation from the right and left and was the subject of media and state-sponsored “moral panics” (Miller 1988; Richardson 1991 in Harris n.d.).
These pioneering groups attracted a broad fan base in North America where, by the mid-1970s, KISS, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith, among others, gave heavy metal a more pop-influenced, theatrical flavour and brought it fully into mainstream markets.
Indeed, the term “Death Metal” was coined in 1983 by members of Switzerland’s Hellhammer (later Celtic Frost) who started a fanzine called “Death Metal.” In the same year, San Francisco’s Possessed released their aptly titled debut demo of the same name, and two years later would release their debut full-length, ‘Seven Churches’.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tampa, Florida was the first death metal “hotspot” and produced such bands as Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation (whom both migrated to Tampa from their native Buffalo), the infamous Deicide, and Monstrosity.
While American thrash metal often featured social commentary (Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets,’ for example, dealt with themes of political deceit and the futility of war), the early death metal bands from Tampa delved deep into the grim and horrific.
A sample of early death metal album titles from the Tampa scene demonstrates an indulgence in gore and the arcane: Death’s ‘Scream Bloody Gore’, Morbid Angel’s ‘Altars of Madness’, Obituary’s ‘Slowly We Rot’, Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Eaten Back to Life’ and later Deicide’s ‘Once Upon the Cross’. The bands from the Tampa scene successfully set the standard against which other death metal bands were judged throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The main magnet to the Tampa area was Morrisound Studios and producer Scott Burns whose production and engineering work “played a crucial part in creating the ‘clean: precise guitar sounds that dominated Death Metal in that era’” (Harris 2000).
Bands from as far as Canada (Gorguts) and Brazil (Sepultura) travelled to Florida to capitalise on the high-quality production at Morrisound Studios.
As Christie comments, “life in Florida did not revolve around any significant social scene, but dozens of bands had their albums produced or engineered by Scott Burns and the staff at Tampa’s Morrisound Studios” (2003, 242).
Morrisound Studios was thus critical in establishing the Tampa sound, which was widely copied by death metal bands elsewhere in the United States of America and other countries.
Undoubtedly, death metal was the most radical form of extreme metal available before black metal was born. Several leading death metal bands had satanic lyrics, including the aforementioned Morbid Angel, which contributed to making Tampa, Florida, a world capital of the subgenre between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s, a direction that Deicide still widely spreads across their sonority mostly due to their charismatic frontman, Glen Benton, whom Swedish scholar Per Faxneld described as “the most vocal and fanatical Satanist in music, before being surpassed by Nordic radicals.”
Moreover, let us not forget Entombed, a prominent group within the Scandinavian branch of death metal, which debuted in 1990 and stated that it had found inspiration for its lyrics in ‘The Satanic Bible’, the textbook written by the founder of modern Satanism, Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997).
Glen Benton, according to Per Faxneld, also performed acts of self-injury and was the first to frame “self-injury as an act of Satanic devotion.” Self-injury, both onstage and off-stage, would become an important part of black metal, together with “corpsepaint,” a black-and-white makeup making the musicians appear corpse-like and demonic.
Both practices were not invented by black metal, nor by heavy metal in general, but the black metal was the first subgenre that converted them into ritualistic homages and sacrifices to Satan. Some black metal musicians even argued that corpsepaint and similar practices were “ritualistic means of inviting the deity, or ‘inner demons,’ to inhabit the participant and manifest itself/themselves on stage.”
There was a clear difference, however, between death metal and black metal. “Insofar as death metal was interested in Satanism, Olson argued, it was an interest based on provocation and rebellion rather than spirituality. The gore-oriented death metal bands were discussing death and horror as a means of confronting and overcoming them. Satan, zombies and serial killers are all lumped into the same category in death metal.”
With black metal, Satan moved to the centre stage. At least for some groups, “black metal songs are meant to be like Calvinist sermons; deadly serious attempts to unite the true believers under the twin banners of Satan and misanthropy.”
Black metal emerged in the 1980s as the most extreme subgenre of heavy metal. The relation of black metal with the other subgenres is not one of total discontinuity. However, although occasional mentions of Satan and occult interests may be found in all the subgenres of heavy metal, the focus on Satanism became a trademark feature of black metal.
Generally credited with starting black metal is a British band, Venom. Formed in 1979 in Newcastle by members of previously existing bands, including Guillotine and Oberon, Venom introduced Satanism as a central heavy metal theme. Venom’s ‘Welcome to Hell’ (1981) was the first black metal album.
There was something new concerning groups like Black Sabbath. The latter merely described scenes of Satanism and witchcraft. Venom wanted to move from the third to the first person and proclaim to the world that the band’s musicians were Satanists.
After this historical approach through extreme metal in order to educate readers a tad more concerning the origins of the death metal genre, Colombian-based Festival Rock al Parque is celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary, and Deicide has been confirmed as one of the highlights of this year’s edition alongside with German thrash metallers from Gelsenkirchen, Sodom, symphonic Finnish gothic performer Tarja Turunen, Brazilian power metal act Angra, countrymen Toxic Holocaust and the magnificently technical Dying Fetus and Swedish veterans, Grave.
The 25th edition of Festival Rock al Parque takes place from June 29th to July 1st, free to attend and will count with multiple activities besides numerous live performances.
To reckon is that Deicide so far has released twelve full-length studio albums, one live album, two compilation albums and two live DVDs. They will be celebrating thirty years of existence during their performance at Festival Rock al Parque.