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Extreme Metal – An Exploration

Extreme Metal – An Exploration

Preface

For those who have not had the pleasure of reading articles by Patrick, aka The Cubist, here on Nerd Bacon, then you should probably be aware of a few things. The Cubist is the co-founder of this here nerdbacon.com game site. He is my ex-brother in-law. We were really close friends throughout much of high school and college, having grown up a mere half mile from each other in the small town of Wake Forest, NC. He is the father of my nephew. And so on and so forth. You get the point. We know each other pretty well.

The Cubist is one of the smartest people I have ever met. About a year ago he stepped away from Nerd Bacon to focus on other pursuits, and we left a lot of his unpublished articles just sitting in the drafts. Something that is important to know about The Cubist is that when something strikes up his interest, he dedicates himself entirely to absorbing any and all information on that particular subject. You may think I’m just speaking kindly, but I’m also trying to be very forward. It is impossible to state the depth at which The Cubist will detail something. He doesn’t always, but if he EVER had to defend a claim, he had defense in spades.

He is also into broadening his horizons, taking on new challenges, and exploring new territories for himself. For someone who really appreciates heavy metal, if you asked him to dive deep into an old Vince Gill country album, he could break it down for you like none other. Nobody masters gathering information and having a “full grasp” on something like The Cubist. This is just the kind of person ol’ Cubes is.

Why am I telling you all of this? Mainly because this article written by him, and he has been dormant for a while, so you may never get a chance to know him better. He wrote this article nearly 2 years ago, and it has been sitting here untouched ever since. It appears to be unfinished and perhaps a little raw in some places, but he never did fully finalize this badboy. This near 6,000 word exploratory article into Extreme Metal piqued MY interest today. This article reminded me of the great things about my ex-comrade Patrick “The Cubist” and how in-depth he could really be. Some people have a talent for detail.

With The Cubist being gone for so long, and the many nerdbacon writers who have come and gone since then, only a handful of our staff has any recollection of actually working with him. But those of us who have been with us for years, we still remember him fondly.

So, without holding you back any further, let’s explore this together. Enjoy.

EXTREME METAL – An Exploration

Written By: The Cubist

May 9, 2015

Welcome!  This side project is pretty well summed up by the title – I aim to explore the world of extreme metal. “Extreme” forms of nearly anything have always fascinated me.  When we take something we know and push it to the limits, to where it almost becomes something that we don’t know, that’s when my interest starts to pique.  Just the mere thought of it makes me want to know more, and that’s what this project will accomplish.  See, I have literally hundreds of albums from within the vast realm of extreme metal right here at my fingertips, but it’s hard to find a time and a place to dig into something so unfriendly to the unknown.  Now I’m no stranger to metal per se, but when it comes to “extreme” side of things, well, there’s plenty left to hear.

So just what is extreme metal?  Ask 10 different people and you’re bound to get at least 7 or 8 different answers. Extreme metal traditionally covers some fairly well-defined areas, but when you start getting into all the permutations, combinations, hybrids, spinoffs, offshoots, and evolutions, you’re dealing with several dozen sub-sub-genres, all with more or less valid claims of legitimacy.  There are also a fair number of heavy metal subtypes skirting just along the edge of truly extreme metal, which I’ll probably give ample attention to as well.

To truly understand what makes this music extreme, it’s important to understand where exactly it came from.  First we need to go all the way back to the beginning of heavy metal.  You’ll find some debate out there, but more often than not, Black Sabbath’s debut album is pointed to as the album that first took the leap from “hard rock” to “heavy metal.”  Deep Purple’s Machine Head is also cited as an early record to make the transition.  Now if you go back and listen to these records it may be tough to see what all the fuss is about – for one thing, these albums are still heavily influenced by blues sensibilities, of which rock is ultimately a derivative of.  Besides being “harder” and “faster,” one of the things that ultimately separates “rock” from “metal” is the level of blues influence.  Believe it or not, metal actually relies more on the scales and chord progressions of classical music whereas rock stays firmly rooted in blues.  Most metal also does away with syncopation, the rhythmic element that makes rock “catchy.”  AC/DC is one of the better exemplifications of what “hard rock” is; notice how bluesy the melodies and guitar parts are.

The other thing important to take into account is the parallel development of punk rock.  Punks and metalheads have long been mortal enemies, but both have been profound influences on each other.  Whereas metal sought to expand and “add to” existing rock in the form of complex and unconventional song structure, guitar, bass, and drum solos, and radically different vocal styles, punks took rock and stripped it back to its basics.  Hardcore punk eventually emerged, taking a very modest approach to musicianship and using the medium as vehicle for politically, socially, and personally charged lyrics.  “Metal” and “punk” may have been about different things, but one thing that they both experimented with was pushing the envelope.

Now let’s rewind to those early heavy metal records.  It didn’t take long for artists to make the music even heavier, while simultaneously adopting some of the aggressiveness found in the punk scene.  Beginning in the late 70’s the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) emerged with bands like Iron Maiden, early Def Leppard, and later Judas Priest.  When you think of that sort of early 80’s style of mainstream metal, that’s NWOBHM (not to be confused with what was mainstream metal in the late 80’s).

Let’s keep following the mainstream path for a moment.  During the mid 80’s, NWOBHM began to see a decline.  Newer artists as well as several existing ones re-adopted more hard rock elements into their music for commercial appear, and either stopped playing metal proper or moved into a more glam metal-oriented direction.  Glam metal (known as hair metal, pop metal, and other semi-derogatory terms) developed as a fusion between 70’s glam rock and hard rock; many metalheads use the term “metal” cautiously in this context.  This more acceptable form of music loosely encompasses everything from decidedly hard rock acts like Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Guns N Roses, to bands that continued to carry on a more traditional form of heavy metal such as Twisted Sister and Van Halen.

Glam metal persisted well into the early 90’s, whereupon metal remained only occasionally present in popular music.  Alternative rock and grunge dominated the early 90’s, though from the get-go a loosely defined fusion of alternative rock and heavy metal was happening in the form progressive acts like Tool, the grunge-tinged Alice in Chains, and bands that began to fuse elements of funk and hip hop into metal such as Faith No More, Body Count, and Rage Against the Machine.  Groove metal was also developing a little under the surface, also utilizing elements of alternative rock as well as hardcore punk.

Although somewhat brief, there was also a marked period where industrial rock/metal dominated the hard rock scene.  Viewed as a bit of an alternative to alternative rock, many of these bands were spurned by the unexpected success of Nine Inch Nails.  Although bands like Stabbing Westward and God Lives Underwater were quickly coined “industrial metal,” they were pale reflections of “true” industrial metal bands such as Godflesh and Strapping Young Lad, who have every right to be considered “extreme.”  As the industrial trend died out in the mid to late 90’s, metal experienced one of its most popular stints to date in the form of nu metal.

Driven by the churning rhythms of groove metal and the rebellious attitude of punk, nu metal took on varying degrees of hip hop influence leading to a wildly popular sound.  Even within nu metal, a fairly large spectrum exists, from the minimal hip hop elements of the Deftones to the largely rapped vocals of Limp Bizkit.  Strictly speaking, nu metal belongs within the larger movement of alternative metal that existed both before nu metal (Faith No More, 311, Butthole Surfers) and persisted afterwards (System of a Down, Audioslave, A Perfect Circle).

In the early 2000’s, alternative metal began to take a backseat to metalcore, or perhaps more specifically melodic metalcore.  Roughly an amalgam of hardcore and extreme metal sub-genres like thrash and melodic death metal, these bands began to discard the prevailing funk, rap, and grunge elements that pervaded popular metal in the 90’s.  Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, As I Lay Dying, and Atreyu saw moderate success during the period.

Today, and for the past several years, metal has been edged out by more purely punk-based derivatives including emo, emo pop, and indie rock.  There is of course a thriving underground of several genres, but for the time being, metal of any sort seems to be on the outs with popular audiences.

To get back to extreme metal, we have to rewind again, all the way back to the early 80’s, on the other side of the Atlantic, back to NWOBHM.  Did the lineage of original heavy metal die out with the rise of NWOBHM?  It’s difficult to say, but by most accounts this very early form of the genre was already relegated to history.  We already know which route the mainstream took, or rather, which route became the mainstream, but musicians were constantly shifting styles.

Distinct from NWOBHM, doom metal was borne directly from the slower tempo work of Black Sabbath.  It remains one of the oldest major stylistic divisions of metal and yet one of the most underground.  We usually think of extreme as meaning faster, not slower.  But doom metal really went outside of the box and decided to make slow its signature.  With crushing percussion and slow downtuned guitars, doom metal can be a shock to virgin ears.  Early practitioners take direct inspiration from Black Sabbath songs like “Electric Funeral,” producing a gloomier, slower, but still recognizable version of heavy metal.  Even the lyrics stick pretty close to standard metal fare, often steeped in fantasy and myth albeit with a darker twist.  Typically branded as traditional doom metal or epic doom metal (after the Candlemass album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus), the genre retained a small but loyal fanbase throughout the 80’s with bands like St. Vitus, Pentagram, Candlemass, and Trouble.

Doom metal has intermingled with other genres over the years to create even more offshoots, including the most popular hybrid of death/doom, but I’ll get to them after we finish hitting the major tenants of extreme metal.

Let’s rewind…again…back to NWOBHM.  Some artists began playing their music faster and with even more aggressive overtones, flirting with some of the more morbid, bizarre, and downright ghastly lyrics that would soon become a staple of resulting sub-genres.  What came forth was one of the closest relatives of extreme metal without being labeled extreme metal itself:  speed metal.  Speed metal is a tough genre to pinpoint.  It exists as more of transition between NWOBHM and what would come next.  In order to really talk about speed metal, we have to go ahead and talk about what came next: thrash metal.  Here we are introduced to the second big category of extreme metal.  Thrash metal is defined by its speed and aggression, usually with harsh shouted or screamed vocals.  Thrash is a technically demanding style of music: tremolo picking, double tapping, and other unconventional techniques are common as well as demanding drum patterns.

Having defined thrash, it’s a little easier to define speed metal, even if the answer is a little bit of a cop out.  Like I said, speed metal tends to act as a continuum between NWOBHM.  About the best definition that I, or anyone else can give, are statements like “faster than NWOBHM, but slower than thrash.”  Or, “more aggressive than NWOBHM, but not as aggressive as thrash.”  Even when listening to speed and thrash right next to each other, there’s lot of overlap in sound.  A couple of key points are that speed metal usually employs comparatively clean vocals compared to thrash and tends to be more melodic overall.

Distinguishing between the two isn’t always (if ever) easy.  The earliest deviations from NWOBHM are probably the best representations of speed metal, with bands like Motörhead and Accept spearheading the change.  Beyond that, waters get a little murkier.  For instance Metallica’s early career is regarded as some of the best of what thrash metal has to offer, though it’s not all that far-fetched to classify their first album, Kill ‘Em All, as a solid example of speed metal.  One of my favorite examples is Venom’s Black Metal, which, despite the name, variously falls on the speed or thrash side of the fence.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, in my opinion at least, is that speed metal existed (exists?) less as particular style and more as a precursor to thrash.  Thrash metal would go on to have a long a prosperous lineage of its own, despite the various offshoots, while speed metal is much more esoteric in nature.  It’s difficult to point to speed metal bands; pointing to certain albums (and even certain songs in some cases) becomes much easier.  If you’re absolutely intent on trying to understand speed metal as its own entity, try Powermad’s Absolute Power, Helstar’s Nosferatu, Lord Liege’s Master Control, ADX’s Execution, and Exiter’s Violence and Force.  Maybe this little tidbit will help, too – Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” is often considered one of the earliest precursors of the style.

Alright, now that we’ve gotten speed metal out of the way, we can focus more fully on thrash.  As much as I wanted to build through the progression chronologically, it’s nigh impossible to discuss speed metal without directly referencing thrash.

Thrash metal got its start in the early 80’s and quickly matured into its own genre.  It’s probably the most visible sub-type of extreme metal, with most non-metalheads having heard some form of thrash at some point and likely describing it as the heaviest thing they’d ever heard.  We already know that thrash was a direct descendant of speed metal, itself an offshoot of NWOBHM, which was the result (among other things) of hardcore punk’s influence on metal.  Thrash metal takes guitar work to the extreme, generally utilizing 2 guitarists: one for grinding riffs and the other for high-register shredding and soloing.  The rapid-fire drumming was directly influenced by the work of hardcore musicians, and the sometimes socially charged lyrics were a reflection of thrash’s hardcore heritage as well.

Moreover, thrash metal was a response to the rise of the more commercially viable glam metal, emerging as an attempt to keep metal “authentic” and somewhat underground by refusing to compromise their heaviness, and indeed even increasing their heaviness in spite of glam metal.  Many successful thrash acts would go on to become iconic in the world of heavy metal in general, and even today they tend to symbolize a sort of “golden age” of heavy metal before styles of alternative metal (such as nu metal) began gaining prominence.  The “Big 4” achieved massive worldwide fame: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.  Many other thrash metal bands gained significant fame throughout the 80’s and even into the 90’s, including “The Teutonic Three” (Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom) from Germany, early Sepultura, Coroner, Annihilator, Overkill, Testament, Death Angel, and Exodus.

Interestingly enough, thrash metal never really splintered off into multiple sub-genres.  What it did do was inspire and influence metal for decades while still maintaining an identity of its own.  It would also go on to co-mingle with existing genres, sharing a complex and ongoing relationship with hardcore punk over the years.

So far, we’ve covered the early half of extreme metal – doom and thrash.  A pretty simple way of viewing this would place heavy metal at the center, with doom showing a preference for slower tempos and thrash exhibiting faster ones.  The other 2 broad stylistic divisions of extreme metal are direct descendants of thrash, and thus display a lot of similarities with their parent genre.  Once considered mere sub-styles of thrash, they’ve definitely come into their own, with distinct (and sometimes competing) subcultures springing up around them.  We are, of course, talking about death metal and black metal.

It’s not easy to say which came first.  They both developed around the same time but in different places and, at least initially, built off of what each other were doing.  They were both born of a desire to take many of the themes presented in thrash metal to the extreme, sometimes so extreme that they cease to be reality-based at all and become part of fantasy world, albeit a harsh, brutal, eerie, bleak, and sometimes disgusting fantasy world.  Despite what may seem like similar approaches on the surface, there are some very fundamental differences between not only death and black metal, but also the musicians behind the music; death metal would become a bizarre form of escapism while black metal morphed into an entire ideology that still exists today.

Death metal is a little easier to chronicle, so we’ll start there.  Born largely in Florida, ironically enough the band known as Death put together many of the elements that we would today recognize as death metal.  With quick tempos borrowed from thrash, death metal moved towards a trend of downtuning their guitars even further, focusing on a heavy and oppressive sound while also emphasizing speed.  Although plenty of death metal artists use unconventional song structure, most bands still stuck with some form of the verse-chorus layout.  The biggest shifts came in the form of vocal style and subject matter.  Growling and grunting is the norm for such vocalists, though screaming, shouting, and slightly cleaner vocals are abundant in early examples of the style.

The thematic shift of death from thrash metal is probably the genre’s most recognizable feature.  Slayer, of the “Big 4” in the world of 80’s thrash, was known for writing lyrics that were much more macabre and visceral than their contemporaries.  Many would credit Slayer’s Reign in Blood as the lyrical blueprint for the new genre, which often deals with death, violence, gore, and the human body.  Widely known for being gruesome and horrific, death metal bands will often intentionally write about controversial and/or taboo subjects, including necrophilia, rape, dismemberment, cannibalism, torture, and war.  Artists and fans continue to defend the extreme nature of the genre as comparable to the violence and imagery used in horror films.  Bands such as Possessed, Death, Immolation, Obituary, Entombed, Deicide, and Pestilence are all good representations of the genre as a whole.

The popularity of death metal rose relatively rapidly in the underground and at its peak saw minor recognition in the mainstream, such as the appearance of Cannibal Corpse in the film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.  By this time, early death metal had begun to evolve into brutal death metal, a less “thrash-y” version that continued to highly death metal’s musical extremes.  This includes faster blast beats, further downtuned guitars, and a marked increase in “slams,” or slower segments of a song built around palm-muted riffs with an emphasis on heaviness (often seen in breakdowns).  In general, speed is less of a factor and heaviness is of primary concern.  It can be hard to draw a definitive line between death and brutal death; to simply matters, brutal death can be thought of as a further evolution of early death metal away from thrash, typically representing the sound following its minor popularity in the early to mid 90’s.  Cannibal Corpse, Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Dying Fetus, and Benighted are known for their accomplishments within this sphere.

Slam death metal is a further descendant of brutal death metal, utilizing these slow to mid-tempo slams almost exclusively with much less emphasis on soloing and technical proficiency.  This rather small segment of death metal focuses heavily on the percussive and rhythmic aspects of the music.  Slam death metal has only really come into its own during the mid to late 2000’s with only a few bands practicing the style exclusively, such as Short Bus Pile Up, Devourment, Cephalotripsy, and Human Mincer.

Melodic death metal is another sub-genre/splinter of death metal, drawing somewhat on early NWOBHM influences for more melodic guitar parts.  It traces its way back to Sweden and the Gothenburg sound, sparking a heated rivalry with the 2nd wave of black metal that was underway at the same time in neighboring Norway.  Unusual in its parent genre, instruments such as acoustic guitars and keyboards can sometimes be found while blast beats are less prominent and a greater variety of vocal styles are used.  Notable practitioners include In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and At the Gates.  It shares a fair bit of overlap with another sub-genre, technical (or progressive) death metal.

Technical death metal, sometimes described as progressive death metal, and furthermore at times overlapping with progressive metal, can act as a catch-all for various bands.  Many bands in this realm retain a noticeable degree of their thrash metal roots and continue to hold to the ideals of “heaviness,” speed, and “extremeness” while experimenting with complex time signatures and scales.  Sometimes described as “exotic,” these artists cling to the essence of death metal while thoroughly exploring atypical musical approaches.  In addition to the guitar work, bass lines can be considerably complex and while blast beats are still the norm on drums, many bands attempt to incorporate other drumming techniques as well.  While these bands may not share an explicit style, they remain associated through their similar approach.  Influential bands like Death began pursuing this approach back in the early 90’s alongside groups like Cynic, Atheist, and Pestilence, and artists like Gojira and Opeth continue pushing the genre in a more progressive direction.

Now we reach the final major player in extreme metal, black metal.  Few musical genres in the history of popular music have inspired as much controversy as black metal, and indeed the scene surrounding the music led to a particularly violent and destructive period activity in Norway during the early 1990s.  But first of all, what is black metal?  One of its defining features are the shrieked and screeched vocals, in contrast with the growls, grunts, and guttural roars of death metal.  The music has traditionally been very lo-fi.  Though this began as a result of bands adopting a DIY ethic, it soon became a defining part of black metal for some artists and fans, and many artists continued to put out lo-fi recordings even after they could afford much better.  Like most extreme metal, blast beats and other rapid drumming is the norm.  Guitar passages are often in the higher registers, featuring techniques such as tremolo picking, though as the genre has evolved, artists have taken more diverse approaches.  The higher guitar parts also contrast with death metal’s downtuned riffing.

Most of all, black metal is united by a certain type of subject matter and lyrical imagery.  Lyrics are often deliberately shocking in nature, with overt references to Satan, suicide, and even murder.  Many bands soon began expanding on these symbolic themes by writing lyrics drawn from Norse mythology and other pagan, pre-Christian beliefs, with strong emphasis on winter, “the North,” wolves, and nature.  From the very beginning, black metal emerged as the ultimate anti-establishment music and for several years the music was indistinguishable from the ideology.  The gore and gruesomeness inherent to death metal was always meant to be an act, but black metal musicians openly advocated a life against the grain.  Many of the early bands took active stances against organized religion (particularly Christianity), believed themselves capable of magic and performed rites and rituals, and intended for black metal to remain as underground as possible.

It’s worth noting that the early progenitors of black metal probably never meant for their music to be heard outside of their subculture.  Many of them never particularly sought musical fame and were increasingly uncomfortable as the genre (and thus scene) gained attention; this attention brought an increased focus on the band’s involved and their sometimes illegal activities.  As the music spread, some musicians aimed to distance themselves from the scene while others were actively opposed to “outsiders” listening to and much less performing this style of music.  It still remains a point of contention today among the more “serious” adherents to black metal.  Still, the original ideals surrounding the music act as a heavy draw for some, and much of black metal is still very much entwined with a particular set of beliefs.

Like death metal, black metal is an offshoot of thrash.  It’s usually discussed in terms of “waves,” with the first wave of black metal ironically not really black metal  at all.  This first wave was pioneered by several speed, thrash, and death metal bands that helped lay the occult groundwork for the genre.  Venom’s Black Metal, although decidedly speed metal in terms of style, had a huge influence on the genre.  The early work of Bathory and Celtic Frost (and the earlier Hellhammer) also played a great role in the imagery of black metal.  

It was during the second wave that the genre would really come into its own, due in large part to the early 90’s Norwegian bands Mayhem and Burzum, the record store Helvete, and surrounding bands and artists like Immortal, Darkthrone, Emperor, and Enslaved.  From around 1990 to 1993, the Norwegian scene was implicated in a string of church burnings (allegedly several of which were committed by sole Burzum member Varg Vikernes) and wracked with murder and suicide, as well as a heated rivalry with Swedish death metal bands of the emerging Gothenburg style.  The scene culminated in 2 major events: first was the suicide of Dead, lead singer of Mayhem.  The aftermath was photographed by other members of the band upon finding him, not to mention other bizarre rumors surrounding the death.  Later on, Varg Vikernes (sole member of Burzum) murdered Mayhem guitarist Euronymous for reasons still not understood.  One staple record of second wave black metal, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, features both murderer (Varg) and victim (Euronymous) playing bass and guitar respectively, a fact that was highlighted and deemed “appropriate” by Mayhem drummer Hellhammer.

After 1993, the Norwegian scene began to settle down, mostly due to various arrests and increased media attention bringing these bands’ other illegal activities to light.  However, it only encouraged increasingly oppositional behavior in the fledgling black metal communities of other countries, most notably Poland and France, with several other countries (England, Germany, Belgium) developing their own black metal subcultures.

By the late 90’s, black metal as both a musical style and ideology was rapidly changing.  Some of the old Norwegian acts who “survived” (both literally and figuratively) began a sort of “movement” known as NSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal, which was in turn met with RABM, or Red and Anarchist Black Metal.  France in particular had a reportedly large NSBM following, though some black metal musicians view the NSBM and RABM “movements” with a degree of suspicion, doubting that these beliefs ever had much, if anything, to do with the music.  Even Varg Vikernes, who continued producing music under the name of Burzum during his incarceration, mentioned that his national socialist views were independent from his status as a black metal musician.

Black metal as a whole continued to develop and thrive in somewhat isolated pockets.  While these pockets took influence from each other and interacted, it was still a very exclusive and slightly mysterious subculture that was still very much focused on authenticity.  Attention from the mainstream gradually loosened some of these restrictions, and black metal soon became less regionally-based and began to splinter off into different styles as some artists attempted to either distance themselves from the second wave or carve their own path entirely.

As with the other genres, we’re going to spend some time focusing on hybrids and fusions separately; for right now, we’re just going to cover the “purer” offspring of black metal.

One of the two major offshoots that the lo-fi recordings of Norway eventually evolved into was melodic black metal, a sub-genre that took production values to professional levels.  The darkness, occultism, and overall anit-Christian themes are still present, but the music is cleaner with less rawness and minimalism, and tends to employ a fuller, more refined sound.  Here’s where many mainstream fans started to latch on and where the music became more accessible to existing metalheads.  Artists also began adding features such as keyboards and clean female vocals to the mix as well.  Dissection, Shade Empire, Windir, and Sacramentum are notable for their contributions to the style.

The other big development was that of symphonic black metal, which added orchestral elements to black metal and similarly increased production values while focusing on a fuller, more refined sound in the vein of melodic back metal.  In fact, it’s questionable whether or not these styles developed independently or of the symphonic variant was merely melodic black metal with an orchestral slant.  For the most part, both styles adhere to the basic sounds of black metal, but the artists involved were more interested in bringing this music to light and showing off the potential of well-produced black metal.  Emperor began moving in this direction during the mid-90s with Dimmu Borgir, early Cradle of Filth, and later Summoning bringing the style to light.

There are a few more “children”of black metal, but whether or not they trace their lineage solely back to black metal or were born of fusions with other genres is up for debate.

Atmospheric black metal acts almost as a “post-black metal” that began with Burzum’s work while in prison.  Without access to conventional instrumentation, he was forced to work with a keyboard, where he produced very ambient-esque music that, upon first listen, would seem to have little to do with black metal at all.  While guitars and the typical screeching may be employed, the music is slower and aims to build atmosphere more than anything.  The sub-genre often deals with themes such as nature and mythology, working to evoke an otherworldly sense in the listener.  Burzum (later work), Ulver, Negura Bunget, and Drudkh have recorded some of the most well-known records in this area.

Some of the most devoted black metal bands vehemently rejected the music’s popularity and reach outside of the subculture and aimed to once again instill fear into outsiders and listeners.  Coupled with the overt misanthropy of some of these groups and individuals, a new style known as depressive black metal (sometimes suicidal black metal) began to appear.  Although some listeners viewed the music as a therapeutic means for dealing with their own dark thoughts, the artists often rejected this notion, intending for their music to be used as “a weapon against the listener.”  To what extent this was taken seriously is unknown, but as the label would suggest, this is pretty bleak stuff that focuses more on personal introspection rather than fantasy and occultism.

Musically, depressive black metal utilizes a slow tempo with guitars and synth to create atmosphere.  It’s usually repetitive and droning, aiming to plunge the listener into a state of hopelessness.  Labeling depressive black metal as a genre unto itself can be troublesome since it seems to share ideas from so many other styles, including atmospheric black metal, doom metal, and specifically funeral doom metal, or even the black/doom hybrid known as blackened doom metal.  Although difficult to distinctly define from such other genres, there does remain a rather well-known group of artists known for depressive black metal including Gris, Tris, Shining, Strid, and Make a Change… Kill Yourself.

Finally we move on to war metal, a difficult to describe subset of black metal.  Again characterized by low production values and recording techniques, it takes some of the death metal “sound” and fuses it with the “attitude” of black metal.  The music is bass-heavy, and when combined with the lo-fi production, tends to produce a muddy sound rather than the tinny sound of early black metal; most describe the music as “chaotic.”  Vocals can take on a quality anywhere between growls and screeches, and the lyrics take on a very black metal approach with depictions of war and apocalypse from Satanic and occult perspective.  Although still a small subset, the sound has gained some ground through the likes of bands like Blasphemy, Archgoat, and Bestial Warlust.  War metal is a difficult genre to place, mostly because its roots lie independent of black metal’s second wave, and instead finding influence from the thrash-y first wave acts and early death metal bands.

Now that we’ve gone through the big 4 – thrash, doom, death, black – it’s time to start hitting the various hybridizations and fusions of these genres not just with each other but with outside types of music as well.  I didn’t want to include these descriptions in my original rundown because it can already be confusing enough keeping up with the origins of each genre and their direct descendants.  I also thought it important to have a basic understand of each style before we went so far as to talk about combining these styles sounded like.

We’ll start off with doom metal since, perhaps more than any other of the four extreme styles, it has gone onto influence several artists.

One of the most recognizable is known as death/doom and combines the slow, atmospheric driven pieces of doom with the heavy, downtuned guitars of death metal and often borrows death metal’s signature growls, turning them into anything from deep, guttural rumbles to sinister anthems of despair.  Lyrically, the music tends to revolve around despair, loss, loneliness, and death, but death is handled with a more poetic slant rather than the graphic extremes of death metal.  Clean female vocals, synth elements, and strings are sometimes added to accentuate the mournful overtones.

Death/doom is also notable for slowing down doom metal even further.  Many of the 80’s bands that brought doom into its own wrote music that moved at a slow to mid-tempo, but death/doom decreased the speed to a crawl and generally eschewed traditional song structure.  The practitioners of death/doom arguably moved even further away from traditional doom than traditional doom had moved from early heavy metal.  Death/doom is, so far, probably the closest that doom has come to breaking into the mainstream, with bands like My Dying Bride finding some success within the wider metal community.  Other important death/doom acts emerged in the early to mid 90’s, including Katatonia, dISEMBOWELMENT, Saturnus, and Anathema.  However, the hybrid can be traced back as far as the mid to late 80’s with bands such as Dream Death, Asphyx, and Paradise Lost experimenting with the combination of sounds as well.

Death/doom still proves to be one of the more popular types of doom metal and has gone on to influence a number of other artists and styles………..

Written by Nerdberry

Nerdberry


Nerdberry here. It’s about time I updated this badboy (been a loooong time). I’m currently loving time on my Xbox 360, as I destroy aliens left and right through the Gears of War games (man these games are good).

But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my love for retro-gaming! My wife and I just bought a house (December, 2015) and we have a baby due ANY DAY NOW (my mini-nerdette-berry is 1 day late as of December 10th), so I haven’t fully unpacked the hundreds of cartridges that I own.

BACONEER ENGINEER EATIN’ STEER… AND PORK.

 
 

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3 Comments

  1. Quite the chronology here!
    I’ve really been into metal and hardcore punk fusions lately. Any suggestions?

     
  2. This was quite the nice tribute. The history of extreme metal is incredibly interesting.

     
  3. Thank you for this.

     

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