What is Extreme Metal?
Extreme metal is an umbrella term for the genres of metal like black metal, death metal, thrash metal and doom metal. Each of these primary genres has various subgenres that are fusions of other metal genres, as well as other music genres. These subgenres are symphonic black metal, melodic death metal, grindcore, and many others. Extreme metal is categorized by its instrumentation (usually faster, more aggressive or even “heavier” than other styles), lyrics (dealing with darker topics and themes), vocals (which often use guttural or harsh singing), and appearance (using corpse paint, and Satanic or occult imagery).
Where Does Extreme Metal Come From?
Like most other genres of metal, the groundwork was laid by bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, which are the common origin points in the development of all metal. With the movement that would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), the lineage becomes hard to follow. Most bands acknowledge Iron Maiden and Motorhead as crucial for the development of thrash or speed metal. But Newcastle’s Venom brought the evil aesthetic: pentagrams, skulls and an obsession with the occult. Unlike Black Sabbath, who occasionally sang about Hell and the Devil, Venom brought an actual personification to those themes. Unlike, Black Sabbath which puts the listener in the place of the frightened person in the corner, Venom challenges the listener to sing along and become that frightening evil figure that Ozzy Osbourne sings about.
It can also be said that the Swiss band Hellhammer brought metal down an even darker path, and get noticed for doing it. The band was absolutely brutalized by critics that the band’s founders Thomas Gabriel “Warrior” and Martin Eric Ain to rename the band into Celtic Frost only a few years into their career. Many of the band’s early releases have since become hailed as influential in the development of extreme metal. The chord progressions of Morbid Tales sound weird and maybe improvised, but the band’s willingness to experiment became the frame for what extreme metal would become.
Discussions about mid-1980s metal can’t go without talking about Sweden’s Bathory. The band’s album The Return of Darkness and Evil has an ugly production quality that prefaces later albums like Under a Funeral Moon. The Return of Darkness and Evil rips through songs like “Total Destruction,” “the Winds of Mayhem,” and “Reap of Evil.” Many of the Scandinavian black metal bands, like Mayhem and Darkthrone, cite Bathory as a major influence on their sound.
What’s the Appeal of Extreme Metal?
Of course, like any genre of music, one doesn’t wake up and decide they want to delete four gigs of country music and replace it with death metal. It’s a slow attraction from the more mainstream genres of hard rock and heavy metal. Like most, if not all music, extreme metal is an acquired taste.
Sometimes, the aggressive sounds appeal to the more aggressive emotions, allowing for a solid emotional outlet for some. Even if the music lacks the aggressive sound, the lyrical content can be sufficient to give satisfaction to any negative emotions one might be feeling.
Even if the lyrical content isn’t dealing with emotions, some lyrical content might be seen as amusing or entertaining by some. Doom metal band Electric Wizard deals mainly with Lovecraftian mythology, ancient beings like Cthulu and Dagon, and the occult. This might attract the interest of fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.
Why Is Extreme Metal Better Than Mainstream Metal?
Although it takes numerous forms, extreme metal has the same mission statement as mainstream metal, to push the boundaries as far as they go. Whether they go as fast as possible, or as menacingly slow as funeral doom, they are alike. Metal has always been more abrasive than the mainstream can handle, yet you’ll never hear bands like Gorgoroth, Death, or Cannibal Corpse on the radio. Mainstream metal is made to sell, it doesn’t require technical difficulty to play. Being in the shadows of the mainstream allows bands to do more creative and challenging stuff. Being in the underground allows these bands to experiment with their creativity and technicality. Does that mean that mainstream bands lack creativity? No, but the mainstream is restricted to the target audience.
Metal also has the spirit of rebellion. Since its inception in 1970, metal has always been something for the outcasts. Over time, as the genre grew and developed into other genres, metal gained a more mainstream following. Bands like Metallica who were once underground sensations became household names. The various genres of extreme metal still manage to capture the underground spirit that metal is about.