Death metal had achieved tremendous popularity across the world during the early 1990s. This was made possible largely owing to the commercial success of bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. As a result, a strong rivalry emerged between the Swedish death metal and Norwegian black metal scenes.
Apparently, musicians of Norwegian black metal were fed up with the entire death metal scene during those times. In the 1990s, death metal diversified into various sub-genres, which still have a large following. Here are some of the remarkable features of death metal music.
Instrumentation in the death metal genre usually comprises a vocalist, a drummer, two guitarists, and a bass player. Occasionally, some bands have been known to change this standard setup with the inclusion of other instruments. One of the examples is the incorporation of electronic keyboards.
Among the salient features of this genre are fast, heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars. They are played with tremolo picking and palm muting techniques. Another remarkable feature of this genre is the aggressive and powerful percussion. Abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes are common in this genre.
A varied song structure is included along with chromatic chord progressions. Under certain circumstances, melodic riffs and harmonies are incorporated for producing the desired effect. In the creation of melodic death metal, this incorporation was used extensively.
The vocals used in this heavy metal sub-genre are called death growls, snarls, or hoarse roars. Many often think that death growling is a form of screaming with the lowest vocal register. However, this vocal register or ‘vocal fry’ is, in fact, a form of overtone screaming.
Growling is performed by experienced vocalists this way, but the ‘true’ death growling is created by a different technique. Thus, vocal fry screaming, ‘true’ death growls, and false chord screaming are the three major methods of vocalization used. These three methods of harsh vocalization are often mistaken for each other.
Despite the criticism, death growls are used for presenting the aggressive lyrical content aesthetically. On certain occasions, high-pitched screaming is used in death metal. This can be heard in many songs of Deicide, Death, Cannibal Corpse, and other bands.
Death metal involves lyrical themes that may invoke slasher film-stylized violence. They may also involve topics like occultism, Satanism, mysticism, mythology, philosophy, politics, and nature. Although the violent topics are also explored in other genres, this particular genre can elaborate on the details.
They include descriptions of extreme acts like psychopathy, blood and gore, mutilation, torture, exorcism, and cannibalism. Some have attributed this to the craving that some individuals have for the images of death and violence. Artists who have contributed to this genre have described death metal as an extreme form of art and entertainment.
In defense of death metal, they associate it with the horror films of the motion picture industry. Many of the international activists still condemn the glamorization of violence in death metal lyrics without any awareness or social context. Many critics in the past were of the opinion that death metal would never go into the mainstream. According to them, the reasons for this were the gory lyrics and music.