How To Make A Death Metal Band
In recent days, I have been confronted with the question "what is death metal?" At first glance it seems to yield an easy answer however, when looking further into the issues it— no, wait, it's still a pretty god damn easy answer. Death metal is equal parts mentality as is it musicality. There is also the "death metal aesthetic," which many people often overlook as a major trait of this enduring genre.
You, young warrior, are the future of death metal. Should you choose to carry the burning flag of mush-mouthed vocals, absurd kick-drum usage, inaudible bass, and rhythmically devoid riffing, then there are many rules that one must adhere to. It's not as easy as throwing on some corpsepaint, and being a black metal band — death metal does require musical talent. Black metal only requires that you be able to apply corpsepaint and fashion homemade bondage clothing from basic art supplies. But that's a whole other story...
This guide will help you, and your fellow band mates, as you forge the greatest death metal band identity since ... Yeah, anyway, we'll get your band all setup.
Firstly, a death metal band can be easily identified by its obscure, illegible logo. If you can read the logo with great ease, or without learning a forgotten foreign language (Orcish, Latin, French, etc.), then there is a good chance you haven't found a death metal band. Be careful, however, as an upstart genre called "black metal" has also laid claim to the indecipherable logo as one if it's trademarks as well. (No one has ever faulted black metal for burgeoning originality.) Also, some death metal bands — mostly in years gone by — did not feel any affinity for an illegible logo, and opted against it. The majority of those bands no longer tour or record, so they don't count. As such, you are well advised to keep with this trend.
Below are some examples of the typical death metal band logo. As you can clearly see, legibility is not a prime concern, at least not as long as "projecting our evilness through calligraphy" is at the forefront of the band's mind. You would be wise to learn from these examples, the next time you're drawing your band's logo in math class.
Obituary, a former major player in the death metal world. Their logo is quite readable, which is probably why Satan chose to break this band up and put their drummer in Andrew WK's band. You don't fuck with Satan and his rules concerning logos!
Polish death metal band Decapitated have thoroughly obscured their name in the above mishmash of colour and typography. They are certainly death metal or, at the very least, patrons of blind typesetters. If a band from Poland can look menacing, you really have no excuse not to.
Bloodbath, a super-group of death metal masters, not only proclaim their status as a death metal band, with their clever name, but they also took the time to make their logo one part abstract art, and another part unreadable font.
Going hand-in-hand with the logo is the band name; you need a name to make a logo, right? Of course I'm fucking right, rhetorical questions are my stock and trade!
When deciding upon a band name, one must remember that the more vile and offensive the name, the more 'extreme' your band is. Take a band name like Charles Bronson, although the band was actually hardcore act, the band's name struck fear into the hearts of dozens, as their live shows indicated. More serious names should employ one of two methodologies:
- The use of tried and true adjectives, nouns, and pronouns that will paint your band as evil and murderous (examples: Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy, The Possessed).
- By avoiding the irksome constraints of the English language by not using it (examples: Satariel, Avernus, Opprobrium, Opeth).
Whatever moniker you decide to bestow upon your death metal outfit, one must remember that it must fit into the death metal style. As clever as "Murderous Joe and the People Killers" is, it's also far too "long" and "stupid" to be a viable death metal moniker. Three separate words are more-than long enough for any band name. And, remember, any discarded names can be recycled as song titles, so "Christ-Stabbing Murder Squad" can live on.
But, even if you find a CD with an unreadable logo and / or fiendish band name, it may not be death metal. As mentioned, black metal bands are very fond of creating logos that look like they may have, at some time in their early lives, contained English text characters. So, one must also take the time to examine the content of the CD, or "track list" as others call it. You can't just stop with the logo, you've got to turn the entire album into a testament to grotesquery and disgust.
It's almost a given, the names of the songs usually give a good indicator as to the style of music present on an album. As such it is your job, as a death metal band, to put the point across that you are "extreme" and "murderous". Rather than actually kill someone — as spending time in jail is not conducive to to music creation — the "murderous" image can be obtained very easily; write songs about serial killers, title the songs as descriptions of a serial killer's activities, and / or simply find the most ludicrous, gore-themed sentence in mind, and use that as a song title.
Examples of the wordsmith skills required for the creations of death metal song titles are as follow:
"Causing the Deaths of Others on a Very Large Scale" - Not a very good death metal song title, although playing to all the elements of death metal, it lacks the subtlety of many other classic death metal titles. A simple change to "Causing the Deaths" is enough to strike fear into people, as well as wonderment; "what deaths are you causing," "is my pet rock safe," "how do I get grease stains out of suede!?" — a veritable bevy of thought that your song titles can provoke.
"We Are Very Evil" - A dead giveaway that a band isn't trying very hard. Learn from this shoddy example of death metal song-craft.
"Violating Your Dead Rotted Corpse In Various Unwholesome Ways" - A little too long and vague although, the prolific nature of the title may bring in some black metal fans, all of whom seem to have an unrequited love of paragraph-length song titles. "Corpse Fucked With a Baseball Bat" is much better, due to it being concise and descriptive.
"Feasting on the Blood of the Insane" - Although feasting on anyone's blood is rather unwieldy, Six Feet Under took it a step further, as one can only assume the insane have less tasty blood. They may not know their songs are fairly indistinguishable, but they do know how to title them!
"Impulse to Disembowel" - Six Feet Under show you exactly how it's done. Nothing says "death metal" better than a good disembowelment. Or, I suppose, a well enunciated "death metal," spoken at a moderate volume — if you want to get technical.
"Twisted Mess of Burnt Decay" - This title shows innovation on the part of Autopsy, as they describe what a burnt corpse looks like. Such a song title makes children weep and parents uncomfortable; it is, therefore, quite death metal.
"I Sodomize Your Corpse" - The crowning gem of death metal song titles, as Autopsy manage to reference death (a corpse), sex (sodomy), with the underlying theme of necrophelia — a veritable TKO! Not only that, it makes the implication that the band does, in fact sodomize corpses. (Note: corpse sodomy is generally not a good hobby to practice, as it is quite messy and, apparently, people do not take much — if any — joy in the prospect of some bushy-haired youth sexually degrading their lost loved ones. Prudes; you can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, likewise you can't make a death metal record without sodomising a few corpses.)
As can be seen, the song title is just as important as the logo — you've got to get across your attitude right away. Song titles that imply the band is fond of necrophelia, sodomy, incestuous post-mortem sex, mass murder, ad hoc surgery involving basic kitchen implements, and / or interior decorating will all serve to build a mystique around the band. However, even more important than song titles are album titles — people will see those before they delve into the bargain bin for your band's death metal opus.
Album titles should include references to the following things:
- Mutilation (everyone's got to have a hobby...)
- Entrails (mmmm... It's all about the entrails.)
- Funerals (you're singing about killing people, right?)
- Rotting (as the disemboweled corpses of your enemies often do.)
- Gore (the stock-and-trade of the death metal world.)
- Death (if this word isn't already a part of the band's name — and even if it is — then it should at least be found in the album's title)
- Massacre (because any moron can perform a murder, but it takes special death metal zeal to pull off a successful massacre.)
Here is a prime example of "gruesome cover art". A cover page like this will ensure you don't end up in the "easy listening" section.
Since a large portion of death metal is the shock-value, an album title should be as thoroughly revolting as possible. Death metal fans will praise you for your no-holds-barred honesty and artistic follow-through, while morality groups will target your band as the next anti-Christ; loyal fans and free press, it's win / win! Accompanying your album title, which should read along the lines of "Fucking the Corpse," "Jesus is a Fraud," or even "Fucking the Fraudulent Corpse of Jesus," will be gruesome imagery of the horrendous acts your band writes about. The more vehement the opposition to your cover artwork, the more "extreme" your band is. Death metal has a long-standing marriage to Satanism and militant atheism that can not be forgotten. An album title is the perfect place for any death metal band's mandatory bible bashing. Quick examples include "God Was Created," "Blasphemy Made Flesh," and "Wages of Sin."
Now that the entire aesthetic aspect of your band has (hopefully) been defined, one must consider what the band's music will sound like. Since it's been established that you wish to form a death metal band, the musical aspect will be very easy to nail down. Kick-drums are a must, as are frightening preoccupations with blast beats and other methods of drumming that fall into the "smashing things really really fast" category. Songs without a disturbingly high BPM are as useless as a guitarist with no limbs, or a bass player. A death metal drummer is not there to provide groove or texture, their only job is to make sure the kick drums are always in use, and that every other drum on the kit is struck at least 400 times before the chorus.
Guitar-wise, a death metal band should typically have two guitarists. Really, it's irrelevant, since the 'roid-raging speed-freak of a drummer will thoroughly mask any noteworthy guitar work, but the 'dual guitar assault' does lend credibility. No one cares about chord structure; it's all about the BPM, dumbass. Fast, frenetic song = "extreme". Remember this. Don't even bother with a bass player, because there is really no room for them in the mix anyway. If you simply must have a bass player — for example, an annoying cousin just has to be part of the band — then by all means. Just remember, though, those double-digit royalty cheques are split amongst each band member, so it's best to be sparring with memberships. A well-rounded song with a good low-end rhythm may sell rock or pop records, and make songs "listenable," but such things are of no consequence to a band that is EXTREME and METAL!
The most important piece of any real band lineup is the vocalist; such is also the case with a death metal band. The frontman is the "make or break" aspect of the band. A strong vocalist can compliment a lineup perfectly, meshing with their fellow musicians to create a chorus of horror and musical terror. A bad vocalist can ruin a band, and bring ridicule and mockery knocking on the band's door. Just look at Chris Barnes, one of the poorest vocalists in death metal history. While once on top — before death metal fans knew any better — Mr. Barnes has been relegated to covering Sex Pistols songs, and trying to convince the world that he has good ideas despite doing things like put Ice T on a track. This is a special warning: if you ever find yourself grunting your lyrics over a mishmash of discarded Obituary riffs, it's time to call it quits, or gut yourself and provide avant garde imagery for use on your band's next album cover.
Determining the vocalist for your band is a very simple task. One should pose the following question to potential death metal frontmen; "can you sing?" If any answer, other than "no" is given, then this individual does not meet the stringent requirements to front your band. Typically a death metal vocalist will sound as though they were bottle-fed Jack Daniels as a child, and routinely consume coffee grinds, glass, thumbtacks, and large quantities of saw dust. If a suitable vocalist is not found, I have outlined the appropriate dietary requirements necessary for developing someone into such a role.
Once you have formed your lineup, and implemented everything mentioned in the aesthetics portion of this guide, you have your death metal band. However, as with anything, upkeep is also required. Even compost heaps need tending; be sure to add rotten produce to your "heap" in the form of new band members, be sure to run through at least one drummer per album — as any band worth mentioning has had problems with drummers. Those that have not had drummer troubles are clearly frauds or have employed some sort of robot percussionist (see: Cannibal Corpse, for the latter). Other methods used to freshen up the band include the formation of side-projects.
Side-bands are mandatory in the heavy metal world, and death metal is no exception to this rule. If you are a guitarist or a drummer, or even a lowly bass player, you will no doubt feel somewhat stifled in your main band. Performing songs written by the whole group, enduring harsh criticism and having some of your "wicked cool" ideas left unused on albums. As such, you must seek out other disenfranchised members, from fellow death metal bands, and form your own side-band. No longer under the dictatorial rule of your other band members, you can institute a dictatorial rule of your own — and form the band into your twisted vision. Simply follow the rules outlined in this guide, and apply it to your side-band, whilst forging the ideas others deemed "stupid", "pointless" and "just plain awful" into the death metal opus you know they actually are. If you are a frontman and, therefore, already in control of one band, then you should form a side-band either to fill downtime or to further your malignant stranglehold on the genre. Simply get together with friends from other death metal bands and fall back on time honoured practices of persuasion: ply them with alcohol and the promise of stardom resulting from your innovative project
Side-projects should never progress outside the tightly ordered kick-drum monotony of death metal; acoustic solo records that indicate one's sensitive side are shunned and burned — often alongside the performer. As is any passionate music that does not feature the screams of a wounded mother sow, or the vocal equivalent of gargling road tar and molasses. You're a death metal musician, remember, originality and innovation have been shaken off like the resident parasites of your Death Metal Superstar Dwelling (AKA house, apartment, shack, or squatted condemned building) when you wake up each morning. Give me death, or give me ... death, that is the mantra of the death metal community. If you choose to forsake this belief, and incorporate contraband such as "melody" into your music, then you will suffer the fate of acts like In Flames, who have dealt with such cutting criticism as being deemed "pussy nu-metal" by some very surly characters on the Internet. Believe me, that is the last thing anyone wants.
So, in closing, I hope that this guide has proven useful to you, young warrior, in your quest to topple the mountain of rotten produce that is death metal. With luck, you will scale this mountain and stand aloft, as the most curdled of milk, the overwhelmingly rank spoiled vegetables, looking down from the peak! Even if you stumble and fall, this is death metal we're talking about — the mountain ain't that fuckin' tall.
Give me death or give me ... death!
Published: February, 2002