Extreme metal

Extreme metal

Extreme metal is an umbrella term, somewhat loosely defined, for a number of related heavy metal subgenres that have developed since the 1980s. Though the term does not refer to any specific style or sound, it most commonly refers to music which is either a member, or incorporates elements of, genres such as thrash metal, black metal, death metal, and, arguably, doom metal.

Though not well-known to mainstream music fans, extreme metal has influenced an array of musical performers inside and outside of heavy metal, and thrives in various devoted subcultures.


"Extreme" can be meant to describe any of the following traits: music (whether it's intended to be faster, more aggressive, abrasive or "heavier" than other metal styles), lyrics (dealing with darker, more sensational topics and themes), vocals (which often use guttural, harsh or abrasive singing), or appearance and stage demeanor (using corpse paint, satanic or occult imagery). The "extreme" label is most commonly applied to bands whose music is extreme; for example, few would consider Kiss or Alice Cooper to be extreme metal, though they could be considered to employ "extreme" elements in their appearance and stage demeanor for their time.

According to ethnographer Keith Kahn-Harris,Kahn-Harris, Keith, "Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge", Oxford: Berg, 2007, ISBN 1845203992] 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.

Given the vagueness of existing definitions and considering the limitations such definitions have, there are many artists for whom the usage of the term "extreme metal" is a subject of debate. However, Kahn-Harris also notes that many musicians and fans see such debates over style and genre as useless and unnecessary, or at least as given undue attention.

While Kahn-Harris describes doom metal as an extreme metal sub-type, it is atypical. Traditional doom metal draws no influence from speed metal or thrash metal, is markedly slower than all other extreme metal styles, and is strongly influenced by metal from before the late-1970s New Wave of British Heavy Metal.



Though songs in traditional heavy metal may be louder, harsher or more abrasive than rock music in general, the underlying elements of melody, harmony and rhythm are generally similar to those in rock and pop music.

However, extreme metal tends to depart from these structures so drastically that to the uninitiated, extreme metal can seem like incomprehensible, overwhelming noise despite the presence of recognizable vocals and instruments. Melody –one of the key elements of popular music– is often of limited importance in extreme metal, if not absent entirely. Extreme metal songs rarely have the central focus of a melodic "pop hook," and when present, melodic elements more typically provide an instrumental backdrop rather than a central focus.


One of the more apparent characteristics of extreme metal is the vocals. Extreme metal singing includes various extended techniques; from harsh, guttural death growls (characteristic of death metal) to high-pitched shrieking (characteristic of black metal). Thrash metal vocalists commonly employ a harsh or shouted vocal style. Extreme metal vocalists can use one or more techniques, and some bands have multiple singers.


Extreme metal is also characterized by its unusual tempo, which may range from very fast-paced –thrash, death and black metal can occasionally approach the extraordinary range of 300 beats per minute–to the extremely slow, as in funeral doom and drone doom. Drummers often utilize double-kick, double bass and blast beats, though not all make use of these techniques. Kahn-Harris notes that many extreme metal drummers take great pride in creating and playing drum patterns that are complex and demanding.


Guitars in extreme metal are commonly distorted to create a thick or abrasive tone. Guitars are frequently tuned below the standard E: thrash metal and black metal guitarists usually tune a half or a whole-step down, while death metal and doom metal often tune even lower. Seven-string guitars (rather than the more common six-string guitars) are not unusual in extreme metal, particularly in death and doom metal; the seventh string is often tuned to a very low B-note. Kahn-Harris notes that extreme metal tends to defy the "riff-guitar solo" paradigm of heavy metal: Guitar solos are often of less importance in extreme metal than in other metal styles, and the chord progressions (or "riffs") in extreme metal are often unusual, complex and demanding.


Below is a basic summary explaining how the three primary extreme metal genres evolved:
*Heavy metal (early 1970s)
**New Wave of British Heavy Metal (late 1970s)
***Speed metal (late 1970s)
****Thrash metal (early 1980s)
*****Black metal, Death metal (mid-late 1980s)

Origins (1970s)

Heavy metal music was developed in the late 1960s as a louder, more emphatic form of blues-rock. Heavy metal pioneers like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple all had strong roots in blues-rock, and although heavy metal was harsher than its predecessor, it often retained a strong blues feel.

By the mid 1970s, some heavy metal musicians were drifting away from the genre's blues roots. The most notable development was the so-called "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" (NWOBHM), which included groups like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Motörhead. These bands toned down the blues elements of earlier acts, increased the tempo, and adopted a tougher sound inspired by punk rock.

Early development (early 1980s)

The NWOBHM group Venom are widely considered one of the more important groups in the creation of extreme metal. Though critics have often characterized Venom's musicianship as mediocre or worse, the band was nonetheless influential. Their songs were among the fastest of their era, with harsh vocals and blatantly Satanic imagery. Their albums "Welcome to Hell" (1981) and "Black Metal" (1982) are regarded as foundational influences on extreme metal. Venom's members also adopted stage names intended to help create a menacing and mysterious persona. Though the practice is not universal, many extreme metal musicians have similarly adopted stage names, especially in black metal.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the development of speed metal and thrash metal, two distinct but nonetheless closely related styles that both drew influence from punk rock (particularly the emphasis on very fast tempos, 2/4 or implied 2/4 time, and brief songs found in hardcore punk). The "big four" of thrash metal (the American groups Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica) proved that extreme metal was a commercially viable force.

Diversification (mid 1980s–present)

According to Kahn-Harris, the mid-to-late 1980s saw vital new developments: death metal and grindcore. Both genres are partly distinguished by their use of blast beats, down-tuned electric guitars and growled vocals. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Norwegian black metal scene emerged, which helped to define black metal as a distinct genre.

Extreme metal earned an unprecedented level of international mainstream attention in the early and mid-1990s. However, much of this attention was negative and focused on the violent activities of the Norwegian black metal scene. Musicians and fans of black metal conducted a campaign of arson attacks on Christian churches in Norway.

Extreme metal genres

Primary genres

*Black metal
*Death metal
*Doom metal (debatable)
*Thrash metal

Primary sub-genres

*Sub-genres of black metal
**Ambient black metal
**Melodic black metal
**Symphonic black metal
**Viking black metal

*Sub-genres of death metal
**Brutal death metal
**Melodic death metal
**Technical death metal

*Sub-genres of doom metal
**Drone doom
**Funeral doom
**Stoner doom
**Epic doom

Fusion genres

Fusions between extreme metal styles
*Blackened death metal
*Black doom
*Death/doom Fusions with punk and hardcore styles
*Crossover thrash
*Crust punk
*Sludge metal

ee also

*Groove metal
*Gothic metal
*Technical metal
*Punk metal


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