overground scene

Nuclear Blast is back in the game? Wake up and smell the carcass!

The fact that death metal is as mainstream as ever is validated everyday by various events. It is quite difficult to interpret why death metal became mainstream. Why a style of music that in the past people who listened to it were ridiculed and considered to be freaks is now respected by, god forbid, serious musicians. Nowadays death metal drummers are respected and even studied at music schools. And the most annoying thing, is that what now is all of a sudden viewed as musically notable, is exactly the same thing that existed in the late 80s-early 90s! Don’t kid ourselves. What Mike Smith (Suffocation) played back then he plays now… What Pete Sandoval (Terrorizer/Morbid Angel) played back then is copied by thousands today. Did anyone notice Doc’s (Vader) amazing performance back in 1995? Of course not! Don’t let me start about the music! There has not been one single innovation in death metal since the mid-90s. Whoever says that Nile is novel then they really have not heard of Immolation or Incantation. Whoever says that Necrophagist constitute innovation, they probably have not heard not only classic death metal (e.g. Death of the Individual thought patterns or Symbolic era) but also some classic Thrash bands like Annihilator! Go listen to Never neverland and you may discover some riffs (listen to “sixes and sevens”) that Necrophagist have stolen and more that they will never be able to replicate! So why today this success?

For one thing, I personally am ashamed that death metal is being accepted as a “serious” music. That thing takes away all the energy and rebeliousness from it. The effects from this phenomenon are already visible. Kids are studying to play death metal! What is that about? People in the 80s did not study how “blast beats” should sound. Most importantly, they did not study how MUSIC was supposed to sound. It just came naturally! That is why there was so much variety! Now everything sounds the same! A young brutal band from Australia can sound exactly the same as one from New York, the UK, Sweden or Greece. Before I try to approach the question, why today this success, I will turn to some of the current events which indicate that death metal is more mainstream than ever.

First of all, lets all agree that grind exists since the mid-80s! Septic Death, Repulsion, Cryptic Slaughter, Napalm Death, etc. And then you have Dave Lombardo waking up and saying that he wants to follow the developments, so he added a few blastbeats to Slayer songs. Of course, to be perfectly honest, he did that before with Testament on their Gathering album (which by the way is monumental). In any case, the blast beat is officially recognised as a novelty now that it sells! Secondly, while death metal back in the day accounted for a small percentage of the metal scene, now it accounts for a huge part of it. I have not done a proper research to say that, but if you take a look at any 20 sequential cd reviews in Blabbermouth you would notice that more than 85% are extreme metal and around 50% of those death/death-hybrid metal. Thirdly, and most importantly, Nuclear Blast is interested in death metal again!!! That is the most crucial indication of death metal’s mainstream success. For those who don’t know Nuclear Blast was the german record company that helped in the emergence of death metal and had some of the most amazing bands ever, master, benediction, dismember, incantation, hypocrisy, pungent stench, revenant, sinister, and others. However, it either shed them or just stopped being supportive of them by the mid-late 90s, when death metal was in a stalemate both creatively and commercially.  That was the time when melodic black metal was on the rise and power metal like Hammerfall. Grim times… It has been widely accepted since, that Nuclear Blast did what all companies who respect themselves should do, i.e. do it all for the money! And today we have Nuclear Blast (a major label) becoming interested in death metal once more… Newest additions include Suffocation, Immolation and Nile and I’m pretty sure more that I’m not aware of. What pisses me off is that this fucking company (I hate nuclear blast) has the highest vinyl prices in the market. I still have not bought the latest Suffocation and Hypocrisy vinyls because they are ridiculously expensive. When I first started buying vinyl records I did it because back in the day they were cheaper than cds. Now they are twice the price of the cd or more.

So we have thousands of death metal bands aspiring to make a lot of money and fame by playing brutal death metal. But why? What made death metal widely respectable and a wise career move? Someone could argue that it just happened that some people finally realised what an inspired music and how talented musicians death metalers are. With all the new communication technologies available opinions move around easily, some people in high places (music magazines) get influenced eventually who in turn influence the kids around the globe. However, if you notice  today’s death scene and the early death scene you’ll notice differences that are much more than just a high degree of contemporary uniformity in relation to the past. You will also notice that everything today is polished. The kids playing death today are well dressed with nice haircuts and an attitude that even Manowar would envy. Still instead of getting to the bottom of it, things become more complicated. Causality is uncertain and every claim points to endogeneity.

Is it that mainstream looking kids became interested in death metal, or is it that companies manufacture death metallers like that in order to be more mainstream? I think that there is a strong case for the former, with some elements of the latter. At this point I want to stress one crucial event that happened circa 2001. That is the huge success of System of a Down, a mainstream band, with a mainstream sound, with a definetely mainstream look. And guess what!? In a couple of the songs there is some grind, or what others call a blast-beat! This is what I think one of the definitive moments in the development of modern death metal and the widespread use of blastbeats. It was that, since a cool band does something, then it has to be cool. Many of the kids that listened to that beat thought that it was cool, because it was in the context of an ear-friendly music and not in the context of World downfall or From enslavement to obliteration! That also could have an effect of making people interested in the origins of this sound. That would eventually lead to the exhumation of death metal. Now where I think the record companies have meddled in is the image. I think that companies learned that what death metal was missing was support from the young female population (that can be easily explained by the fact that it is a musical movement started by empowered young men and reflects all the things that men are taught to like, violence and aggression). Therefore they used methods of marketing ubiguitous in the rest of the music industry. That is to make extreme metal musicians look fuckable, instead of the dirtbags that they were in the past. So they combined that which starts to become cool (extremity in music), with a cool appearance. That is not against the interests of the musicians themselves of course.

In my eyes, today’s popular death metal is the death metal of rules, where everything is counted and balanced and make sense. It is not the death metal that goes out of hand, that is unreasonable and that it does not take a thousand notes per minute to be appreciated. The death metal where two chords, a brutal and sincerely pissed-off voice, and passion in performance can make the skin crawl. Many people, among which some expert musicians, might be able to listen to the hyperbrutal New Wave Of Brutal Death Metal and even like it, but will never be able to understand the beauty of songs like Shadows in the Deep (unleashed), Life shatters (desultory), across the fields of forever (Edge of sanity) and It awaits (Asphyx). Why? Because it wouldn’t make sense. Why listen to them? They are not goodlooking (so I am either not attracted to them or I cannot use them as role models or I will feel ashamed if my friends find out I listen to these “funny looking” people), they are not technical (so I cannot prove smt to my parents, my friends or my music teacher) and they are noisy! Good stuff!

p.s. all those people who claim that cannibal corpse are creatively in their best period are wankers! Cannibal corpse have stopped being innovative and threatening to any musical conventions since 1996. Today cannibal corpse are the epitome of boredom and routine.

p.s.2. Nile’s last good album was Black seeds of vengeance. After that there has been a constant recycling.

p.s.3. Whoever says that the latest Asphyx album is good, has no idea about death metal or about what Asphyx used to stand for. The Asphyx wannabes try to capitulate on the rise of death metal and they probably achieve that. But the album is so uninspired that Theo Loomans turns in his grave.

p.s.4 I’ve been reading lately (again) the most outrageous things about slayer’s new album. People saying that Americon is an uninspired song (Blabbermouth), people saying that playing with dolls explores new paths of melody (some wank on Amazon) etc. First of all, it is clear that people still cannot grasp the genious that Kerry King is. I’m pretty sure that if skeletons of society, or temptation were released today instead of 20 years ago people would still say the same stupid things… Sucks to be them. Secondly, slayer have been writing songs like playing with dolls since seasons (dead skin mask, in divine intervention 213, and others). So before you share your uninformed bullshit with other people go listen to the old albums.


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