Extreme metal

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Extreme metal is a loosely defined umbrella term for a number of related heavy metal music subgenres that have developed since the early 1980s. It has been defined as a "cluster of metal subgenres characterized by sonic, verbal, and visual transgression". [1]


The term usually refers to a more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style associated with the speed metal, thrash metal, black metal, death metal, and doom metal genres. [2] Hardcore punk has been considered an integral part of the development of extreme metal, in the case of song structure and speed, [3] [4] in every case other than doom metal. [5]


Extreme metal acts set themselves apart from traditional heavy metal acts, such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motörhead, by incorporating more abrasive musical characteristics such as higher tempos, increased aggression and a harsher extremity. In the majority of the world, extreme metal does not receive much radio-play or achieve high chart positions. [6]

Extreme metal's sonic excess is characterized by high levels of distortion (also in the vocals – grunting or screaming), less focus on guitar solos and melody, emphasis on technical control, and fast tempos (at times, more than 200 beats per minute). Its thematic transgression can be found in more overt and/or serious references to Satanism and the darker aspects of human existence that are considered out of bounds or distasteful, such as death, suicide and war." [7] "Visual transgression [can include] ... medieval weaponry [and] bloody/horrific artwork." [7]

According to ethnographer Keith Kahn-Harris, [8] the defining characteristics of extreme metal can all be regarded as clearly transgressive: the "extreme" traits noted above are all intended to violate or transgress given cultural, artistic, social or aesthetic boundaries. Kahn-Harris states that extreme metal can be "close to being ... formless noise", at least to the uninitiated listener. [8] :33 He states that with extreme metal lyrics, they often "offer no possibility of hope or redemption" and lyrics often reference apocalyptic themes. Extreme metal lyrics often describe Christianity as weak or submissive, [8] :40 and many songs express misanthropic views such as "kill every thing". [8] :40 A small number of extreme metal bands and song lyrics make reference to far-right politics; for example, the Swedish black metal band Marduk has commonly referenced the Nazi Panzer tanks, which can be seen in works such as Panzer Division Marduk (1999). [8] :41


The British band Venom are one of the first bands to venture into extreme metal territory, due to their ideological shift into themes of evil, the devil and hell. [3] Their first two albums, Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), are considered a major influence on thrash metal and extreme metal in general. [8] This early work by Venom, in combination with bands like Discharge, The Exploited and Amebix as well as American hardcore punk brought integral elements into the budding extreme metal landscape at the time. [3] In 1983, Metallica would release their debut album Kill 'Em All , which fused elements of the new wave of British heavy metal with hardcore punk and the style of Motörhead, becoming the first thrash metal album, [9] and would eventually be certified triple platinum. [10] A few months later, Slayer would release their own thrash metal album Show No Mercy , influenced by the sounds of Venom, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Mercyful Fate. [11]

When extreme metal band Hellhammer first began making music, it was generally panned by critics, leading to the members forming Celtic Frost in its place, which proved very influential on the progression of the genre. During this period, the line between extreme metal genres were blurred, as thrash metal bands such Slayer, Sepultura, Sodom, Destruction and Kreator were integral to the first wave black metal scene. [3] The front cover of the Sarcófago's 1987 debut album, I.N.R.I. , is regarded as a great influence on black metal's corpse paint style make-up. [12] That record is also considered one of the first wave black metal albums that helped shape the genre. Their second album, The Laws of Scourge , was one of the first technical death metal records to be released. [13]

List of genres

Venom were significant to the development of speed metal into thrash metal into black metal. Venom (Brutal Assault 2014).jpg
Venom were significant to the development of speed metal into thrash metal into black metal.

Primary genres

Subgenres of primary genres

Fusion genres

Fusions between primary genres

Fusions with punk rock styles

Fusion with other rock styles

Fusions with other musical styles


Genres influenced by extreme metal but usually not considered extreme themselves:

Related Research Articles

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, a shrieking vocal style, heavily distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, raw (lo-fi) recording, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on atmosphere. Artists often appear in corpse paint and adopt pseudonyms.

Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick and blast beat techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, and chromatic chord progressions. The lyrical themes of death metal may include slasher film-style violence, political conflict, religion, nature, philosophy, and science fiction.

Grindcore is an extreme fusion genre of heavy metal and hardcore punk that originated in the mid-1980s, drawing inspiration from abrasive-sounding musical styles, such as: thrashcore, crust punk, hardcore punk, extreme metal, and industrial. Grindcore is considered a more noise-filled style of hardcore punk while using hardcore's trademark characteristics such as heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, grinding overdriven bass, high speed tempo, blast beats, and vocals which consist of growls and high-pitched shrieks. Early groups like Napalm Death are credited with laying the groundwork for the style. It is most prevalent today in North America and Europe, with popular contributors such as Brutal Truth and Nasum. Lyrical themes range from a primary focus on social and political concerns, to gory subject matter and black humor.

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent in the United States. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, heavy metal bands developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and loudness. The lyrics and performances are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and often fast tempo. The songs usually use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead guitar work. The lyrical subject matter often deals with criticisms of The Establishment and concern over the destruction of the environment, and at times shares a disdain for Christian dogma resembling that of their black metal counterparts. The language is typically quite direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.

Doom metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that typically uses slower tempos, low-tuned guitars and a much "thicker" or "heavier" sound than other heavy metal genres. Both the music and the lyrics intend to evoke a sense of despair, dread, and impending doom. The genre is strongly influenced by the early work of Black Sabbath, who formed a prototype for doom metal. During the first half of the 1980s, a number of bands from England, the United States and Sweden defined doom metal as a distinct genre.

A number of heavy metal genres have developed since the emergence of heavy metal during the late 1960s and early 1970s. At times heavy metal genres may overlap or are difficult to distinguish, but they can be identified by a number of traits. They may differ in terms of: instrumentation, tempo, song structure, vocal style, lyrics, guitar playing style, drumming style, and so on.

Crust punk is a form of music influenced by English punk rock and extreme metal. The style, which evolved in the early-1980s in England, often has songs with dark and pessimistic lyrics that linger on political and social ills. The term "crust" was coined by Hellbastard on their 1986 Ripper Crust demo.

Melodic death metal is a subgenre of death metal that employs highly melodic guitar riffs, often borrowing from traditional heavy metal. The style originated and developed in Sweden and the United Kingdom around 1993. The Swedish death metal scene did much to popularise the style, soon centering in the "Gothenburg metal" scene.

Metalcore is a fusion music genre that combines elements of extreme metal and hardcore punk. As with other styles blending metal and hardcore, such as crust punk and grindcore, metalcore is noted for its use of breakdowns, slow, intense passages conducive to moshing. Other defining instrumentation includes heavy guitar riffs, occasional blast beats, and double bass drumming. Vocalists in the genre typically yell or scream. Some later metalcore bands combine this with clean singing, often during the chorus. Death growls and gang vocals are common. 1990s metalcore bands were inspired by hardcore while later metalcore bands were inspired by melodic death metal. Melodic death metal bands like At the Gates and In Flames influenced later metalcore bands.


Thrashcore is a fast tempo subgenre of hardcore punk that emerged in the early 1980s. Thrashcore is essentially sped-up hardcore, often using blast beats. Songs can be very brief, and thrashcore is in many ways a less dissonant, less metallic forerunner of grindcore. The genre is sometimes associated with skateboarder subculture.

Mortification is an Australian Christian extreme metal band which was formed in 1987 as a heavy metal group, Lightforce, by mainstay Steve Rowe on bass guitar and vocals. By 1990, in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin, they were renamed as Mortification with the line-up of Rowe, Michael Carlisle on guitar and Jayson Sherlock on drums. Mortification has released over twenty albums and several videos on major record labels such as Nuclear Blast. As one of the earliest internationally successful Christian death metal bands from Australia, they served as an inspiration for later similar groups.

Discharge (band)

Discharge are an English hardcore punk band formed in 1977 in Stoke-on-Trent by Terence "Tezz" Roberts and Royston "Rainy" Wainwright. While the band has undergone several line-up changes throughout its history, the classic line-up from the early 1980s featured bassist Wainwright, drummer Gary Maloney, Anthony "Bones" Roberts playing guitar, and vocalist Kelvin "Cal" Morris.

Mathcore is a subgenre of hardcore punk and metalcore influenced by post-hardcore, extreme metal and math rock that developed during the 1990s. Bands in the genre emphasize complex and fluctuant rhythms through the use of irregular time signatures, polymeters, syncopations and tempo changes. Early mathcore lyrics were addressed from a realistic worldview and with a pessimistic, defiant, resentful or sarcastic point of view.

Deathcore is an extreme metal subgenre that combines death metal with metalcore. Deathcore consists of death metal guitar riffs, blast beats, and metalcore breakdowns. Deathcore gained most prominence within the southwestern United States, especially Arizona and inland southern California, which are home to many notable bands and various festivals.

Blackened death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal that fuses elements of black metal and death metal.

<i>Metal: A Headbangers Journey</i> 2005 film by Sam Dunn

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is a 2005 documentary film directed by Sam Dunn with Scot McFadyen and Jessica Wise. The film follows 31-year-old Dunn, a Canadian anthropologist, who has been a heavy metal fan since the age of 12. Dunn sets out across the world to uncover the various opinions on heavy metal music, including its origins, culture, controversy, and the reasons it is loved by so many people. The film made its debut at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, and was released as a two-disc special edition DVD in the US on 19 September 2006.

Melodic metalcore is a fusion genre, incorporating elements of melodic death metal and metalcore; it has a heavy emphasis on melodic instrumentation, distorted guitar tones, palm muting, double bass drumming, blast beats, metalcore-stylized breakdowns, aggressive screaming, death growls, and clean singing. The genre has seen commercial success for employing a more accessible sound at times compared to other forms of extreme music. Many notable melodic metalcore bands have been influenced by At the Gates and In Flames.

Heavy hardcore is a subgenre of hardcore punk and heavy metal that incorporates more music elements of heavy metal than traditional hardcore punk. Heavy hardcore features aggressive vocals, down-tuned electric guitars, gang vocals, and heavy breakdowns. Heavy hardcore bands are often labelled as simply "hardcore", causing the term "hardcore" to be a vague term because it also is used as a label on traditional hardcore punk, a genre played by bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains.


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Further reading