Most laymen of heavy metal labor under the misconception that death metal began with the group Death. While it’s true that Chuck Schuldiner’s epic group was among the pioneers of the subgenre, death metal didn’t exactly start exclusively with Death.
Originally called Mantas, this group formed in 1983. Their first demo, Death by Metal, was released on September 7, 1984. Satanic metal group Possessed also formed in 1983 and their demo album, Death Metal, was also released in 1984.
Venom actually predated both bands. 1981 marked the release of their first album, Welcome to Hell. German thrash metal band Tormentor (who later changed their name to Kreator) formed in 1982 and made some of the fastest and heaviest metal songs in the 80s.
No history of death metal could omit Slayer. Admittedly, they did recede into what was moderate thrash at best after about two decades, but they were representing extreme thrash when they formed in 1981.
Salient features of death
Death metal might never have developed without the graphic, aggressive lyrics of the abovementioned bands. Members of Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, and Obituary adopted a lot of techniques of extreme thrash metal such as lightning-speed beats, muted riffing, and violence-permeated lyrics on matters like murder, death, dying, serial killers, diseases, and Satanism uttered in distorted, horrifying vocals.
How did thrash transform into death?
The death metal bands of the 80s upped the ante, growling lower, playing faster, tuning down their instruments, and feeding vocal distortion. They adopted a more casual look than their thrash brethren with sloppy T-shirts and sweatpants. Like their black metal counterparts in Norway were doing at the time, some musicians would cut themselves onstage.
Major death metal scenes
Unlike most other major music scenes in the US, which usually developed around big cities like LA, New York, and Seattle, the death metal movement in the US began in Tampa, Florida, a relatively small and sleepy town at the time. Death themselves were originally from Orlando. Atheist, Obituary, Deicide, Morbid Angel, and Massacre are some of the names that developed in the area.
The temperature in Tampa is often as high as 90 degrees as early as in spring. You can only imagine what it’s like in summer! A lot of musicians, forced to stay indoors, began practicing with bands in their houses or garages or rented cheap practice spaces. To save money, a lot of them practiced in outdoor storage sheds.
That’s how death metal came to be. Sadly, this movement’s heyday has passed, but we can still listen to the greats and wait for new acts to come. We’re sure they will.