Director Sam Dunn Picks the Five Most Important Extreme Metal Bands
Since the entire extreme metal sub-genre is typically overlooked, I’ve decided to list five pivotal bands that have shaped the sound, lyrics and aesthetics of extreme metal from the early 80s to present-day. So I humbly present to you my picks for the most important architects of metal’s darkest, most iconoclastic sub-genre:
Bathory: Bathory’s self-titled debut record marked the true birth of the black metal sub-genre, transforming black metal from the tongue-in-cheek occult posturing of Venom into a sober, artistic pursuit. Lo-fi production values, epic Viking lore, eerie atmospheric passages – Bathory’s enigmatic founding member Quorthon (RIP) almost singlehandedly forged a template that would inspire legions of Scandinavian black metal bands.
Possessed: Ratcheting up metal’s evil quotient with ultra-low guttural vocals, songs about ritual sacrifice and images of giant flaming upside-down crosses and blood-splattered human skulls, Possessed made their 80s Bay Area thrash metal counterparts look like half-assed part-timers. Not to mention that the final track on their seminal debut Seven Churches, “Death Metal,” would coin an entire sub-genre to be.
Carcass: Featuring over-the-top song titles like Genital Grinder, Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites, Crepitating Bowel Erosion – Liverpool’s Carcass introduced a brand of extreme metal was at once absurd and clinically precise, and sent most 80s extreme metalheads to their local medical libraries to find out exactly what the hell “crepitating” meant. Pioneering so-called “grindcore” along with fellow Brits Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower, Carcass’ sound was brutally raw, impossibly fast and indeed grinding.
Death: Death leader Chuck Shuldiner (RIP) was the Bach of extreme metal. Eschewing the primitive for the progressive, Chuck and Co. took the brutality of Bathory, Posssessed, Autopsy etc. and added complexity, virtuosity and lyrical depth, proving that extreme can also be elegant. And with album titles like Spiritual Healing and Human, death metal was now about more than decapitation and limb dismemberment: it was a social commentary.
Enslaved: Who said extreme metal couldn’t be spiritual? Hailing from the fjords of Norway’s rugged westcoast, Bergen’s Enslaved began their career amidst the pack of Norwegian black metal bands that exploded in the early 90s. But by decade’s end they had matured into an eccentric blend of black-meets-prog-meets-folk metal, with lead growler/bassist Grutle Kjellson recounting Norse mythology in long-extinct dialects. Recent albums Ruun and Axioma Ethica Odini demonstrate that extreme metal can be a vehicle for both savage aggression and oral history, suggesting a brave future for metal’s most transgressive sub-genre.
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