By Lindsey Rhoades
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In his new book Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore (Feral House), metal journalist (and editor in chief of the excellent Philadelphia-based metal magazine Decibel) Albert Mudrian gives an in-depth play-by-play of the origins, record label battles, rise, fall, and return of a genre that would come to be known as the final frontier of loud guitar rock. "Death metal and grindcore are responsible for basically all that you see going on in extreme music today in one facet or another," says Mudrian. Unless you've been submerged in your Bright Eyes and Wilco CDs, you've probably noticed the huge metal renaissance of late. To get a hit, or rekindle the flame you once knew, Entombed, one of death metal's biggest guns, play B.B. King's February 7, followed by a reunited Morbid Angel (also at B.B.'s) later this month.
photo: Frank White/Earache Records
photo: Courtesy of Earache Records
U.S. bands like Possessed, Morbid Angel, Death, and Repulsion baptized their insanely technical riffs on guitars tuned down so low that the strings flapped on the neck, which were augmented by roaring, inhuman pitch-shifted vocals, bringing "death metal" to, uh well, life. Meanwhile, kids across the Atlanticparticularly frequent John Peel favorites Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, and Carcasswere saddling doom metal riffs with the crusty attitude and chainsaw-ripping ferociousness of hardcore punk, forcing the drums to speed up into so-called blast-beats and christening the resulting chaos grindcore.
Interestingly, unlike in hip-hop or black metal (death metal's ugly Norwegian stepchild of face-painted, in-scene murdering, church-burning Satanists), the grinders in the bands never murdered each other, and their lyrics apparently never inspired any copycat killing by fans. "Extreme music is a different kind of culture," explains Mudrian. "Hip-hop culture is often rooted in an environment where violence is a way of life, whereas metallet's be honestis mostly a suburban white-boy thing; violence was never their reality. Besides what these guys were singing about, I think most of these guys were just everyday Joes." And in fact, most of the dudes in the book come off as amiable, suburban nerds raised on a steady diet of Slayer and 20-sided dice; perhaps this explains why so many traded in their axes for IT work? But not all were so normal: In the early '90s, Deicide's Glen Benton (and his permanently burned upside-down-cross forehead) and Morbid Angel's Trey Azagthoth (guitar-shredding, self-mutilating worm eater) were something of the eviler-than-thou scene's mascots.
photo:Courtesy of Earache Records