How Death Metal has Changed Throughout the Years and What it Might Look Like in the Future

Written by Sam Hughes (Features Writer)

Death metal has existed for thirty-plus years, and throughout the decades we’ve been able to see how it’s progressed, changed, and evolved. I’ve always categorized the different types of death metal, and today we will be going over the different categories or waves of death metal that have occurred throughout the years. Starting in 1985, we got our first taste of death metal, and we will be exploring how death metal has changed since then. Let’s start where it all began. 

First, we’ll start by looking at the first wave of death metal, (the mid-eighties) the blueprints, and starting grounds for death metal. Although it is still considered death metal, this early form of it was still very thrash metal-influenced. In 1985, San Francisco’s Possessed released their debut album, Seven Churches, which had the first bit of death metal anyone had ever heard. Although it was not a full-on death metal record, they used elements of thrash metal infused with death metal to lay the groundwork for future bands to come. In 1987, Florida’s Death’s released Scream Bloody Gore, which was the world’s first full death metal album. Bands like Master and Necrophagia were a big part of the first wave of death metal, but not nearly as influential as Death and Possessed. 

Moving on to the second wave of death metal, (the late 80’s to the early ’90s) we see more bands tuning their guitars lower, introducing more guttural vocals, writing more gore-based lyrics, and becoming more aggressive in nature. We had the United State’s Deicide, Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Cannibal Corpse, while Sweden’s up-and-coming death metal scene had bands like Dismember, Entombed, Grave, and Unleashed. The UK also had bands like Carcass, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, and Cancer. Cannibal Corpse was the first band to release a full-length album with guttural vocals on it, (Butchered at Birth) while Entombed was the first to use the “buzzsaw” guitar tone on one of their albums. (Left-Hand Path) Carcass would also be the band to pioneer the genre goregrind, with their album Symphonies of Sickness. 

The third wave of death metal, (the mid to late 90’s) consisted of even more downtuned, guttural bands. The use of technicality and complex song-writing was popularized here as well, with bands like Deeds of Flesh, Dying Fetus, Suffocation, Internal Bleeding, Pyrexia, and Cryptopsy creating intense, hard-to-follow melodies accompanied by low, inhuman vocals. Albums like Effigy of the Forgotten, Trading Pieces, None So Vile, and Voracious Contempt would be pioneering the new sound of death metal, which was more technical, well-written, and less primitive than its preceding bands. The third wave of death metal gave birth to genres we know today as brutal death metal, technical death metal, and technical brutal death metal.

As we move out of the 20th century, we find our death metal becoming even more intense, technical, and brutal than anything before. The fourth wave of death metal (the late 90’s to early 2000s) had an emphasis on the music’s heaviness and brutality. While bands like Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Immolation, and Incantation were still going strong, younger bands were creating even heavier music. This was the age of brutal/technical death metal. Although it was born in the mid 90’s, brutal/technical death metal hit its peak in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. Bands like Disgorge, Devourment, Regurgitation, and Brodequin were taking brutal death metal to a new extreme. In 1999, the first“slam death metal” album (Molesting the Decapitated) was released by Texas’s Devourment. It was characterized by complex riffs, extremely fast drums, and most importantly the “slam” riff, which is a slow, low, palm-muted riff, which was invented by New York’s Suffocation in 1991. Although bands like Repudilation and Afterbirth had slam demos, they were not full-lengths. (But they could be credited with creating slam.)

Anything after the fourth wave of death metal is most likely going to be a stale copy of a band from the 90’s, so in my opinion, that was the last true stage of evolution in death metal. We still do have new death metal bands creating fresh sounds, but not enough to consider it a wave. In conclusion, death metal evolved from around the mid 80’s to the early 2000’s, and we’ve progressively seen it get heavier, more technical, progressive, and creative along the way. Thanks for reading!


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