When death metal first came about, people believed it would never make it into the mainstream “culture” of our trend-based, democratic society. It turned out that industry just made an emo/metal hybrid and called it “technical death metal” so that neckbeard fedora barista hipsters can now claim they, too, listen to “outlaw music.”
While metal continues to explode in popularity and becomes an ongoing joke for the mainstream while being adored by countless anime fans who fawn over prepubescent boys dressed as girls, both the underground and the mainstream metal world remain stagnant. Here is a quick glance into what one can expect.
Yesterday, we gave you the 10 most popular death metal bands of all time. Now one by one they will face public execution as we absolutely massacre their most recent release. No mercy will be shown- orders are to kill everything that moves.
Did you fucking soy metal nu males really think they would get off easy? This is Death Metal Underground- the most savage music site on the internet! Death to soy metal, death to sellouts, burn and die all falses! Mayhem- war- sadism- brutalization! No death metal band should have 1 million Facebook likes! No death metal band should be on Facebook at all! Pussies! Behead the corpses, throw them into the streets- the Templar way!
It’s one of those esoteric questions that wanders in and out of the mind without a quick Google search to offer a definite solution. But today it dawned on me that if I don’t try to find an answer, it’s unlikely any one else will do a decent job at doing so. And given the fact that deathmetal.org is the number one site that comes up when you Google “death metal news,” I believe we have a journalistic duty to present the world with this information.
Since where to draw the line on what’s “true” death metal or not is a matter of opinion moreso than concrete fact, I determined that anything labeled “death metal” would be fair game whether it truly was a pure death metal band or not. Therefore I’d consider melodic death metal, black metal, and even deathcore in an effort to find who had conquered the greater sphere of death metal.
Unfortunately, the Nielsen record sale tracking data is not public and often does not identify how well an album has sold for many years after its release. Thus, I determined that the most accurate metric for mining this data would be to measure by Facebook likes. Yes, I know it’s not an exact science- many fans aren’t on Facebook, and many people click a band’s like button without really listening to them. But still, it was as good as I would ever get to finding who the most popular band in the greater bounds of “death metal” truly was.
I expected to see the favorites of the 90’s metal press and MTVX dominate- Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Decide, Death, and probably In Flames take the number 1 spot. Imagine my shock, that only one of these bands even cracked the top 5! I had always heard about Morbid Angel and Deicide had the highest album sales, but it appears neither band has been able to conquer the internet age.
So again, this list was populated within very forgiving boundaries (bands loosely considered death metal, whether or not I believed them to be), and the best metric I could come up with. Also, DO NOT FUCKING EVEN THINK OF CONFUSING THIS AS BEING A LIST OF THE BEST DEATH METAL- IT IS QUITE THE OPPOSITE!!! And finally, if there are any bands you think I missed please let me know in the comments below and I will gladly do a live update and give you credit- maybe.
Without further ado, here is – for the first time in history – a list of the most popular bands that people considered to be death metal, and an explanation to why I would endure the immense visceral hatred for even considering them:
Interview contributed to Death Metal Underground by Chris Annunziata.
Chris Annunziata, host of The Metal Teddy Bear Experience show on 90.3 WMSC-FM, interviewed Mikael Akerfeldt of death ‘n’ toll turned seventies style rock band Opeth at the Starland Ballroom on March 7th. Chris steadfastly transcribed the extensive interview and most graciously submitted it us. Mikael discusses his touring experiences with Megadeth and Gojira along with his childhood security blanket and love of raw meat. The recorded version is at the end.
Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree recently conducted an interview with Metal Wani. In the linked second part, he suggested an aesthetic reason for the backlash against the swarm of “progressive” metal acts – according to him, there are too many progressive metal bands that are overusing the “metal guitar sound”, to the point that such loses its impact. In the mean time, Wilson is trying to explore dark and melancholic themes outside of metal, most notably in his collaboration with Mikael Akerfeldt in Storm Corrosion. This is obviously a different perspective than our usual narrative here at DMU – if you ask us, your pseudo-progressive band failed not because metal guitar is a cliched sound (which doesn’t eliminate the possibility), but more likely because your songwriting either took the form of modern pop in disguise or incoherent nonsense.
A while back, DMU ran an erotic fanfiction contest in response to a small incident involving Pantera and the community around them, much to our fans’ joy and pleasure. As part of our initiative to grow the site (and because of the potential for controversy), we’re going to try our hands at another.
Opeth has long been one of our prominent targets for their inept aping of progressive rock forms in a paper-thin guise of death metal. Their popularity seems to have waned in recent years as they lapsed more overtly into ’70s prog worship, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give them the occasional dose of mockery to lighten up their mood and possibly incite them to heights of passion that might lead to better songwriting if we’re enormously fortunate. Thusly, Death Metal Underground’s second erotic fanfiction contest is going to be about Opeth and its members.
The rules are similar to those of the previous contest.
Your story must be between 500-5,000 words and involve the members of Opeth in intensely sexual and/or erotic situations. It’s up to you to determine which perversions and fetishes you want to involve, but the more depraved, the better.
References to bandmembers’ side projects (like Steel and Bloodbath) are permitted, as well as references to other bands appealing to a similar demographic. However, your work must primarily be about Opeth.
Your story must be your own work. You are allowed to quote Opeth lyrics for effect, but don’t crutch yourself too badly by overusing them, lest your work be rendered underwhelming.
Submit your entries as comments on this post. You have until 11:59 PM EST on November 30th, 2015 (we extended it) to write a story for this content, so let your imagination and libido run wild.
Many of us are fans of last.fm and other services which keep track of listening statistics. These allow me to link up various devices that I use and see what my actual listening patterns are instead of what I think they are. For example, if you asked me for a list of top death metal releases, I can easily name something like this list of the best in each genre. But that is an analytical opinion related to the art and music themselves, not a personal habit, which reflects more the day-to-day utility I find in different albums. Such is the split with Gorguts Obscura, an album I listened to extensively when it came out in accidental defiance of conventional wisdom, but then have not picked up since. Part of the reason is the unreasonably loud production, which makes it — like Sinister Hate and other albums of the “early ProTools era” — difficult to listen to alongside classic albums, and abrasively loud with lost texture of distortion. Another reason is that having heard it three times a day for five years, I may have simply absorbed it entirely. A third might be that while it is admirable as a piece of art, it may not be applicable to much of my life or thought process at this point.
I read Old Disgruntled Bastard‘s article “The postmodern Gorguts” with great interest not just because I enjoy ODB’s writing, but because he has cut into a vital topic: does Obscura belong to the old school death metal legions, or is it of a newer style that we call “modern metal”? Modern metal — comprised of nu-metal, metalcore, tech-death, post-metal and indie-rock — distinguishes itself from the old because it is composed like rock but with metal riffs mixed in among the jazz and prog affectations. The analysis of it as postmodern seems to make sense if one considers later postmodernism. Early postmodernism distrusted meta-narratives and so attempted to create its own based on the subtext, or invisible reality, as an alternative to the public text or consensual token-based narrative of our reality and civilization.
Later postmodernism simplified that to an idea of showing many different angles or perspectives of a topic, like a Pablo Picasso painting, which created a surface level of complexity of ingredients so intense that it reduced the organizing principle or internal complexity of the work to near nothingness. Compare Don Delillo’s White Noise to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (itself highly derivative of Pynchon, that highly derivative of Nabokov and Burroughs) for an example of this in literature.
The public school safe answer when asked about the origins of postmodernism is that it sprang up with Foucault, but someone who traces the history of ideas — and actually writes postmodern fiction — like myself may see the origins instead in an early writing by Fred “Mad Dog” Nietzsche entitled “On Truth and Lies in a Post-Moral Sense,” in which he points out the nihilism of language: tokens work only when people mean the same thing, but people project their own desires into the meaning through the imprecise device of memory, which means that narratives rapidly become deconstructed into manipulation and the only excuse is to discard the old values and definitions, and rebuild from common sense observation of reality.
There are, after all, very few ideas in history, and much as Plato was a watershed, Nietzsche defined the different perspectives in the modern time, but this analysis is too far-reaching to be made in public, least of all on the government dime. I remember talking with Audrey Ewell (Until the Light Takes Us) over this very split and finding myself dismissed as perhaps not knowing the background material, which is very un-postmodern as it affirms an official narrative in defiance of the introspection that leads to analysis of externality by structure and not appearance, a trait shared between Nietzsche and the Romantics that lives on in postmodernism albeit faintly, and only in the important works, excluding the forgettable Mitchell for example. Postmodernism appears in movies by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, specifically the death metal-friendly Melancholia, and even in the theories we tell ourselves about daily life. Discontent with The NarrativeTM abounds, but very few agree on what that narrative is or what is the truth that it conceals, which shows a difficulty of postmodernism: it deconstructs and points vaguely in a new direction, but never finalizes the task, which relegates it to the academic realm of sipping Merlot and watching the world build up tinder for the final carnage.
Having boiled out all of that context to postmodernism as idea, let us look at William Pilgrim’s excellent article. Death Metal Underground tries to provide multiple perspectives — in the postmodern sense — on any topic, but diverges from the postmodern narrative by affirming that reality itself is truth, and we can approximate that truth, so we must undertake the almost never undertaken second part of the process which is through reasoned debate to then find answers. People love the idea of multiple perspectives, because it means that since nothing is true, they can do whatever they want and that “feels” good to the forlorn or under-confident soul. They are less enthusiastic about boiling down the data found and constructing from it an assessment of truthfulness. The article contains two essential nodal points, the first of which is the definition of postmodernism:
…a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.
This sounds surprisingly like one of my favorite definitions, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of “nihilism”:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated…By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence…In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists….French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is.
Much of interest stands out here starting with caste. Alan Pratt seems to see the two interpretations of nihilism as reflecting degrees of abstraction. On one level, people say that life has no inherent meaning — that is the correct short form translation of what he says above — and translate that into dissipation; on the other, they see this as an opportunity to escape the dead definitions of a dying civilization and re-evaluate all that is known and how it is seen as important; in other words, to go back to Nietzsche and his Romantic-tinged apocalyptic renewal.
This also introduces the fundamental problem of modern philosophy, which it tries to handle through grammars of different fields of study, consisting of the coherence/correspondence split. A sentence can be completely grammatical and parse-able but contain no meaning because it imitates outward form but refers to nothing and resembles nothing found in reality. “A = x; if A > x, then the world ends” is entirely sensible as an expression, yet gives no information and relates to nothing. Like Nietzsche, most postmodern philosophers attack language, but unlike Nietzsche, they seek to find ways around language where Nietzsche’s point was the more flexible idea that language, logic and other forms of communication and truth-assessment are dependent on those who wield them, their intelligence, honest and intent; in other words, as he said, “There are no truths, only interpretations.”
This nihilism — which sounds a lot like postmodernism itself — distrusts not just a narrative, but the idea that there can be a narrative, or in other words one explanation of reality and how to deal with it that applies to all people. This translates to a distrust of the inherent or innate, such as the idea of “writing on the wall” or any other kind of definitive sign that communicates to all people. In other words, reality is out there, and all of our access to it comes through interpretations; these vary in value, and communication between them occurs through reality, so is subject to the same weakness. This means that there is no single symbolic or token communication which can be said to be innately true, and since the world itself issues forth no data in symbolic form, “truth” is a property of human minds and dependent on the quality, discipline and application of those minds, and is not shared among humanity collectively.
This applies less to the idea of a narrative within, say, a death metal album, that to the idea of a narrative describing our world and universal values to address it. However, individual interpretations can more closely approximate an understanding of reality, even if they cannot be communicated because communication depends on symbolic parity between all parties, which in turn depends on the ability to understand those symbols in roughly the same way. In ancient times, that viewpoint was called “esotericism” because it suggested that reality revealed its truths to those who were ready for them, with both a sense of knowledge being cumulative and not open to all people. A genius or highly talented person sees a different truth than others, thus this truth is localized to that person, and cannot be shared by the act of encoding it in symbols and speaking or writing them to others.
Taking this path through postmodern reveals that while postmodernism “flouts conventions”, as the article states, flouting conventions is not the total of postmodernism; it is one attribute, and it occurs not in and of itself but for the sake of undermining the narrative. This brings us to the core of Pilgrim’s analysis of Obscura:
In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura shortchanges the simple truth that holds up metal and indeed all ‘essential’ music, that of relating an idea through sound.
I will simplify this in a grotesque but accurate way: tail wags dog. Instead of technique being used as a means of expressing an idea, the technique becomes the goal and the idea is filled in afterwards to unite the different technical parts. This common criticism of metal rings true in almost all disorganized works because the band wrote a bunch of riffs, adjusted rhythm like a big paper bag to fit them all together, and then called it a “song” despite having nothing in common between its parts, and thus no emergent atmosphere or communication which makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. This leaves us with the criticism of Obscura as failing to maintain a narrative, and whether this is related to the postmodern distrust of narratives, which itself could constitute a narrative. We could create a thesis of history describing humanity as a successive series of escapes from previously limiting narratives to new ones, but that then portrays postmodernism entirely as a form of deconstruction, which while compatible with the notion of extreme skepticism fails to capture the Nietzschean notion of “re-evaluation of all values” which is the second half of the postmodern process: (1) deconstruct and (2) reconstruct, from reality (correspondence) and not internal grammars (coherence).
The only remaining question is to analyze the music itself and see if its parts in fact associate in some way as to make a meaningful whole, which is the question here; postmodernism has served as a useful filter for introduction but not really a guide to how to do this. We are back to using the same compositional analysis that would apply to any death metal release, or any through-composed music.
Specifically, Pilgrim identifies the lack of a melodic or structural center:
Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then.
At this point my own narrative must switch to the incredibly general in lieu of analyzing each song. My take on this album is that Gorguts wrote an album in the style of The Erosion of Sanity and then, possibly through the work of Steve Hurdle, added strong melodic continuity. Then, they chopped it and re-arranged it so that riffs introduced themselves both in “backward” order of distilling from more texturally complex to most melodically clear, and arranged them so that the melody was introduced in a pattern which broke up its normal flow in order to introduce pieces in a sequence that created another emotional impression, then assembling it from its conclusion for the final part of the song. This seems to me both not the tail wags dog approach, but also a use of technique over composition, but in this case it was effective because the music was already composed and was modified with an additional layer of complexity and perhaps, some anticipatory contrarianism, in order to make its labyrinthine journey of fragmentary melodies into more of a puzzle assembled in the mind of the listener, not unlike how postmodern novels like Naked Lunch separated a story into vignettes and multiple character/setting groups in order to disguise it and force the reader to assemble it in the abstract, before repeating it in a finale in more concrete form.
However, it seems to me that the core of Pilgrim’s essay is his listing of seven attributes of metal, and that perhaps his intent is to use Gorguts and postmodernism as a point to speak about metal as both having postmodern attributes, and opposing postmodernism by asserting a narrative construction of its own. In this, metal may be a nihilistic exception to the norm of postmodernism, in that while it distrusts the contemporary narrative, and negates the idea of inherent truth/knowledge/communication, it asserts that it can portray reality in a fragment in such a way that others can appreciate it. Regarding the charges of amateurism, Pilgrim makes some solid points. The fixation on iconoclasm and paradigm-inversion, which itself strengthens a narrative by the fact that exceptions tend to prove the rule, and deliberately “whacky” permutations of arrangement draw skepticism, and deservedly so. The third possibility offered by this author is that like most works of art, parts of Obscura are sincere and insightful, and other parts are bullshit designed “outward in,” or from appearance to core, meaning that they communicate little or were modified to express something convenient after the fact. If taken as a whole however, the album minimizes these parts by fitting them within other songs that attract less trivial attention. Where Pilgrim seems proven right to me is through recent Gorguts output which emphasizes mysticism of the trivial as a means of enhancing the self-estimation of its listeners, much as Opeth and Meshuggah built a cottage industry around making simple music seem complex to attract low self-esteem fans who want bragging and pretense rights over their friends; where he falls short is that From Wisdom To Hate, while a more rushed and uneven album, further develops the techniques on Obscura.
The cause: Too many labels, too many resources, too many enabled idiots. The result: tons and tons of mediocre music. Occasionally a decent release or two. A handful of good albums each year. A classic every few years. In the advent of such a shitstorm, should we ignore the fecal matter covering our windshields, obstructing our view as we look for actually worthwhile releases?
Groteskh – Code: END
Some think death metal is all about brutal riffs. The brutaller your riff, the awesomer your music. And if you pack your music with brutal riff after brutal riff, then of course, your music will be the brutallest. Some also think that black metal is “all about the atmosphere”. And what does atmosphere mean, according to simple minds? Well, come flat-sounding strummed riffs with an “evil” feeling. Groteskh plays in the modern style of boring death metal pretending to be black metal. And in doing so, trying to excuse the lacking death metal the band produces. Code:END amounts to “brutal riffs with atmosphere”, a delight for the moronic modern extreme metal commoner. Add in some parts with groovy drums, bopping bass and strummed “evil sounding” chords, and you got your death black party metal formula.
Seven7 – The Follower
Best described as Mike Portnoy syncopations, Matt Halpern groove poserism, power metal inclinations with Fred Durst and Chester Bennington deciding the musical direction, Seven7 make Nu Metal bent on taking the fraud of Dream Theater’s pseudo-prog as part of its language. Frankly, it sounds like a Dream Theater unveiled to what it truly is: pretentious pop music. Disgusting at every level, this album is a collection of tropes from the mainstream melodic extreme metal appropriated to a Nu Metal and Alternative Metal context.
Jarun – Pod niebem utkanym z popiołu
Jarun gives us a musically consistent Blackwater Park that is only folk in name. Lose melodies out of context, racing double bass drums and “progressive” riffs riding under disorganized music that attempts to hide its simple structure under a lot of flare and affectation. The music here is essentially rhythmic appeal to headbangs and slightly bittersweet melodies ala Pink Frothy Aids. The introduction of purposeless riffs is a clear sign of a lack of vision in composition, but this crowd and those who surround them are oblivious to what this means. Condemned to live in delusion and pretension, this music appeals to those who want to pose as if they listen to deep or complex music but only want music that is easy to digest and headbang to.
Opeth made a career for themselves out of making death metal that was not death metal. Instead, it was rock music that dropped in death metal riffs during the choruses, kind of like how a nu-metal band plays quasi-acoustic and whispers so it can explode into angry dad-hating rage. This allowed the audience to feel like outsider rebels while being low-risk conformists.
Over time, the Swedes in Opeth found their original inspiration, which was to be the Dave Matthews Band for the vegan chocolate Tumblr set, and stepped aside from being death metal-flavored entirely. Never fear! The labels have brought you Tribulation which is essentially the Opeth sound updated with some hints from Enslaved about how to be metallish without using metal riffs and, thankfully, uptempo and catchier songs.
Tribulation is what Opeth always should have been. Essentially hard rock, using somewhat linear but expanded song structures, they create the atmosphere of a Gothic band with the guitars of heavy folk rock, making atmospheric and pleasant music that keeps the hoarse whispering vocals of death metal. For fans of Cradle of Filth, Opeth, Tiamat, newer Paradise Lost and Pyogenesis, this is a perfect fit.