Sunday, June 18, 2006

Underground metal (1980s, 1990s, and 2000s)

Many subgenres of heavy metal developed during the 1980s. Several attempts have been made to map the complex world of underground metal, most notably by the editors of the online All Music Guide, as well as critic Garry Sharpe-Young. Sharpe-Young's multi-volume metal encyclopedias separate the underground into five major categories: thrash metal, death metal, black metal, power metal, and, lastly, the related sub-genres of doom and gothic metal.

Thrash metal
Main article: Thrash metal

Metallica, one of the main thrash metal groupsIn a move away from metal's hard rock roots, a genre that took influences from hardcore punk emerged in the 1980s — thrash metal. The genre's sound was much more aggressive, louder and faster than the original metal bands or their glam metal contemporaries, and the guitar work was often more technically complex. This subgenre was popularized by the 'Big Four Of Thrash', Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer, with bands like San Francisco's Testament and Exodus, New Jersey's Overkill and Brazil's Sepultura also making an impact. With the exception of Metallica, who sold consistently in the millions, and even appeared on the Billboard chart at #6 with "...And Justice for All" during the 1980s, thrash was more underground in terms of sales and media coverage, compared to more popular subgenres. During the 1990s, sales of thrash improved, particularly that of the "big four".

Death metal
Main article: Death metal
In the early and mid 1990s, thrash began to evolve and split further into more extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal. Many death metal bands would eventually showcase levels of speed and technicality that were previously unheard of and while highly skilled guitar work remained highly valued (as in most metal genres) death metal also featured a more prominent role from highly skilled, versatile, and fast drummers. Death metal vocals are typically fairly harsh and involve guttural growling, high-pitched screaming, and other such atonal vocalizations that are usually not found in other genres of music. Complimenting the deep, aggressive vocal style are downtuned, highly distorted guitars, and extremely fast drums which make use of rapid double bass drumming and syncopation. Frequent tempo and time signature changes are not uncommon. Death metal (a term probably originating from Possessed's song "Death Metal", off their Seven Churches album), led by Possessed and Death, would evolve into various sub-genres and would produce many notable bands, such as Nile and Suffocation.

Music sample:
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (file info) — play in browser (beta)
"De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" by Mayhem (1994).
Problems listening to the file? See media help.

Black metal
Main article: Black metal
Black metal is an extreme metal genre that began in Scandinavia and remains one of the most underground metal genres, although some symphonic black metal bands including Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth have crossed over into the mainstream. Satanic and Pagan themes are common in the genre. Black metal (a term coined by Venom, from an album titled Black Metal) eventually produced an "inner circle" of bands that would become associated with considerable violence in the early 90s. Black metal can vary considerably in it's production quality and style, although most bands make use of shrieked and growled vocals, highly distorted guitars and emphasize a "dark" atmosphere. Denmark's Mercyful Fate are often considered the originators of the corpse paint that is common to Black Metal. Bathory (generally considered one of the first black metal acts although they later involved more Viking themes), Celtic Frost and Mayhem were key bands early on, and one of the most well known and technically proficient black metal bands is Emperor.

Power metal
Main article: Power metal
From the 1980s and into the 1990s power metal, especially in Europe, evolved in an opposite direction from death metal and thrash by keeping the speed, anti-commercial mentality and intensity of heavy metal but focusing on upbeat and epic themes and melodies. Power metal usually involves high pitched 'clean singing' similar to that of NWOBHM vocalists, such as Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, as opposed to death grunts. Traditional power metal bands such as Manowar and Hammerfall have a sound very close to classic heavy metal whilst more modern power metal bands such as Rhapsody of Fire, Kamelot and Symphony X often have a strong keyboard based symphonic influence, sometimes using orchestra and opera singers. Power metal has gained a strong fanbase in Japan and South America, where bands like Brazil's Angra or Argentina's Rata Blanca are popular. Helloween in 1985 were the first example of European power metal. Closely related to power metal is progressive metal, a fusion of the progressive stylings of bands like Rush, King Crimson and heavy metal. This style began in the '80s, too, behind innovators like Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, and Dream Theater who enjoyed substantial mainstream acceptance and success in the glam metal era.

Doom metal
Main article: Doom metal
At a time when thrash ruled the metal underground, a new genre known as doom metal took the opposite approach. Beginning in the 1980s with such bands as Saint Vitus), Doom metal rejected the emphasis on speed, and slowed its music to a crawl. The themes, style, and approach of the genre were deeply indebted to Black Sabbath, and have remained so to this day. Doom metal traces its roots back to early Black Sabbath albums. But, perharps an album that represents the style on a more advanced and distinguishable stage of development is Paradise Lost's second album Gothic.


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