Ego-Death in Death Metal

You will find no shortage of praise for the experience of “ego-death.” The self-haters, both megalomaniac and neurotic in the mediocrity they recognize in themselves, like it because Buddhists like it and self-destructive, self-pitying people love anything foreign.

However, the process has a rich heritage not just in Buddhist but New World, African, and European lore. It refers to the mental state of having realized that one is part of the world, instead of the world is part of the self. It is not ego-death, but the death of solipsism.

Consider the following lyric from Deicide:

Life has no meaning, unyielding obsession
Grasping at strings of a life I once knew
Death by my own hands, achieving objective
Blade to my throat, I calmly greet death

In Hell I burn, my faith is sustained
In Hell I burn again
In Hell I burn, no questions remain
In Hell I burn for Satan

Opened eyes dream, unheavenly torture
Raping the world of the dead
Burning in Hell and viewing the unseen
Satisfied feasting of flesh

In Hell I burn, my faith is sustained
In Hell I burn again
In Hell I burn, no questions remain
In Hell I burn for Satan

Master it’s true
My promise I have kept
Fulfillment of the prophecies
The deity’s dead

In the first stanza, we have a statement of suicide: “Death by my own hands, achieving objective / Blade to my throat, I calmly greet death.”

But by the last stanza, we have a declaration of deicide: “Fulfillment of the prophecies / The deity’s dead.”

So… who dies in this one? Is it the narrator, God, or both, meaning that with the death of the narrator, the need for God also perishes, or at least the Christian vision of a symbolic moral God dies in fire?

The lyric starts with a rejection of karmic drama: “Life has no meaning, unyielding obsession.” The Self in the Hindu meaning refers to the process of the world and the needs of survival as part of the karmic cycle, which is both an esoteric search for learning and a constant struggle of natural selection and predation.

This song makes a convincing argument that God — as seen in the Christian faith, or at least the consumerist interpretation thereof — exists only as an extension of the ego, and the solution is for the ego to die through a symbolic ritual suicide.

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22 thoughts on “Ego-Death in Death Metal”

  1. Serious question says:

    Did Vader get their name from a sci-fi movie?

    1. Serious Answer says:


  2. Spaniard says:

    Piggybacking on the Deicide, here’s a great interview with Glen Benton from better days:

    1. Lucifuge Merciless says:

      Great interview, Deicide at their peak.

  3. Fckk Godl says:

    Effigy of the Forgotten turns 30 this october.

  4. Lucifuge Merciless says:

    Lyrics that have more substance than you think they do until some further inspection. Legion is simply one of the all-time classics, truly ferocious, nihilistic, and sinister. Sonically it is very intense, with diabolical atmosphere. Back in the 90s, you showed this album to someone who was a Marilyn Manson fan and their reaction would be priceless. It was just so mercilessly blasphemous that it made Manson look like evangelical Christian by comparison. Not only did early Deicide disturb the Christian Right, but also the slave moralist Left, as evidenced by the interview posted in the comments here. The first four Deicide albums stand tantamount as pure Death Metal perfection, with Legion in particular being a miasma of nihilistic blasphemy.

    1. Fckk Godl says:

      IMO only the first three are good. On 4 the band lost direction.

      1. I listen to the first three only. The fourth has its moments. Purists like the first two, and I have sympathy for this viewpoint, but I think that Once Upon the Cross is almost an entirely different style for this band. Legion always needed someone to go back and give it the production of the first album.

        1. Blinding Rays says:

          Could you elaborate on this? Once Upon A Cross seems like a step back to the more simplistic Death Metal of the debut, why do you say they created a new style on this album?

          1. I don’t think any of it is simplistic; I think it uses simple devices. They like the primitive approach, but that’s an artistic choice as well, and a significant one, since the music gains a lot of power from that. In my view, Once Upon A Cross hybridizes the first two albums, streamlines them, and focuses on atmosphere more than the dramatic approach of the first or the structuralism of the second. This album plays with moods. It is more like South of Heaven than the first two, but they turned up the primitivist caveman riffing in order to create a dark atmosphere in which subversion could play. In my view, this album is underrated, but everything after it is confused, leading to present-day Deicide which can only be described with a quick WTF LOL review.

        2. Cynical says:

          Legion’s production is perfect for what the album is. It’s explosive while remaining crystal clear; for an album that’s 28 minutes of compositional violence in the form of structure (and one minute of goats) the charismatic performances of the first album aren’t really as emphasized, and so the production needs are different.

          For what it’s worth, I enjoy the third album, although it’s clearly hybridized with popular ’80s radio “heavy metal”. Big ready-for-MTV hooks, little of the charismatic idiosyncrasy of the first album and none of the encrypted fractal structures of the second. It falls into that category of “good sellout album”, like The Coming Of Chaos, British Steel, Master of Puppets, or Covenant.

          1. Gay R2D2 says:

            The Coming of Chaos is fantastic.

            Eat my Robutt.

            1. Cynical says:

              All of the “good sellout albums” I mentioned are good albums. They’re also clearly compromises — create something in a less esoteric form that a good chunk of the “normie” audience can handle, but still try to make good music within this framework.

              1. I see many of these as a convergence of events.

                The band have shot their wad of initial material and influences, and need to produce an album; simultaneously, they have improved musically by touring and become more confident but want the affirmation that comes from making music that the larger society can recognize as “good”; they now have a label with professional costs and expectations, which always pushes them toward the mainstream while the band attempts to find the least disruptive version of that possible; in their mid-20s, the bandmembers are sick of working at Target and would rather just tour four months a year and write music or screw off the rest of the time.

                In my view, Once Upon The Cross is superior to Master of Puppets because it has a consistent voice — in part because Steve Asheim composed most of it — and develops a full theory of what Deicide would be when it streamlined in order to make its voice clearer. Some things could have been done better, perhaps, but the power of this album is hard to deny. Covenant strikes me as an experimental EP with other material tacked on, and if I recall correctly from the Judas Priest statements on this matter, their “sellout” was mostly a change in producers who insisted they streamline. In the big picture, I like streamlining if it does not pander; too often these things are confused.

      2. Lucifuge Merciless says:

        I think Serpents of the Light has a sick guitar tone, raw but heavy production and good vocals, and I dig the cover and the overall sound of the album, that one brings back memories for me as well, although the lyrics started to get dumbed down on that one. The 5th album had its moments musically, but that is the one where the really started to lose direction IMO. The sixth one, the last one they did for Roadrunner, In Torment, In Hell, was mired by problems within the band, and it has a few cool riffs, but ultimately the focus is gone. “Vengeance Will Be Mine” had so much potential to be a classic track for the band, but it ultimately ends up being a phoned in performance. The last album they did, “Overtures of Blasphemy,” sounded cool, but every time I hear new Decide I just always pop in one of the first four again. I don’t think Legion will ever be topped…..same with the first album and “Once Upon the Cross…..”

    2. It’s interesting how when death metal sold out the herd created first rap-influenced simplistic death metal, then metalcore, then deathcore, and finally emocore. These fans rarely listen to the old school material and often are wholly ignorant of it. Kind of funny how music sorts people.

  5. Tom Chipz says:

    Lol you loser nerds will of course want some EGO DEATH. Rap music has been the premier representation of Masculinity and even your precious Nietzschean ideals. All hip hop has done is win. And it has stayed there. You all stay stook.

    1. George says:


    2. Hip hop is the new top 40. That is, the kids like it, but everyone else is cringing.

  6. Harked Back says:


  7. buttholio says:

    Are there any new or at least obscure but still going metal bands that aren’t woke/commie/sjw? Every week a band I loved outs themselves and I don’t even want to waste my time, let alone money on that. Running out of shit to listen to.

    1. Cynical says:


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