Death Metal came to the fore during the mid-1980s, evolving from the early black metal and thrash metal. It is a sub-genre of heavy metal music and involves growling vocals and some aggressive drumming. This heavy metal sub-genre also includes double kick and blast beat techniques.
It makes use of distorted and low-tuned guitars, employing techniques like tremolo picking and palm muting. Time signature changes, atonality, abrupt tempo, and chromatic chord progressions are a part of this heavy metal sub-genre. This form of rock music gained popularity during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A British extreme metal band from Newcastle called ‘Venom’ released their albums Black Metal and Welcome to Hell. With these albums, they crystallized the elements of what would later become thrash metal, black metal, and death metal. The extreme metal bands were inspired by their harsh vocals, dark and blistering sound, Satanic imagery, and macabre.
In 1981, another highly influential band called ‘Slayer’ was formed. Although their acts were primarily thrash metal, their music seemed to have more violence. It appeared to be more violent than their contemporaries of thrash metal, such as Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth. Slayer won a cult following with their description of death, war, violence, and Satanism in their lyrics.
Much of the fury and sound that later evolved into death metal was invented by Slayer’s album titled Hell Awaits. What really inspired the entire genre of death metal was their third album called Reign in Blood. During 1983, a band called ‘Possessed’ formed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
They were largely inspired by the bands Motorhead, Venom, and Exodus. In their years of formation, they had released only two studio albums and one EP. Some of the journalists and musicians believed that they were the first death metal band. The acts of Possessed furthered the cause of death metal.
Another influential metal band called ‘Death’ was formed in the city of Orlando in Florida around the same time. They released Death by Metal in 1984, which was their first demo. It was followed by several more releases. The name of this band spread far and wide with their tapes getting circulated through the tape trader world.
Many of the death metal bands had been signed by record labels by 1989. These record companies wanted to cash in on the heavy metal sub-genre’s popularity. Among the most sought-after bands in this form of rock music were Deicide, Obituary, and Morbid Angel. The debut album of Morbid Angel titled Altars of Madness released in 1989.
With this album, the band pushed death metal’s limits lyrically as well as musically. Death metal then spread to Sweden. The early 1990s saw the rise of melodic death metal with Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, and other Swedish bands. By the end of the decade, new sub-genres of death metal began evolving. The British band ‘Carcass’ and New York-based band called ‘Suffocation’ contributed immensely to this early movement.
Roadrunner Records, Earache Records, and Relativity Records became the most important labels of the death metal genre. Several death metal record labels went on to achieve successes in other death metal genres throughout the 1990s.