Since KAOSradioAustin.org spent the holidays working through server migration and other technical changes as well as my ongoing computer issues at home MPH noise has been on sabbatical. I will be quite honest, I’ve missed the show terribly. It’s been one of my most important outlets for musical discovery, creative expression, personal growth and interacting with listeners (and friends and fellow DJs) as well as meeting new people. Not doing the show leaves me with a big of a void in all of those things. However, the show was birthed from the idea that I’m constantly generating musical listening ideas and that has not ceased just because the show isn’t consistently airing at present.
Over the past few weeks it seemed like I had the same basic discussion about the origins of melodic death metal with several people and in each one it seemed like there were a few bands or albums that I deemed quintessential in the growth of the genre that the people I was talking to were unfamiliar with. For as ubiquitous as I perceive the genre and for as overdone as aspects like harmonized guitar leads and instrumental melody underpinning monotoned vocalizations have become in metal and hardcore in general some of the genres roots in the late 1980s through mid-1990s are still overlooked.
Truth be told, melodeath (as it’s not-so-affectionately known) is an amalgamation of genres that came before it. Particularly a clash of the soaring harmonizations of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (like Priest & Maiden) combining with the riffing of speed metal (arguably, in particular west coast speed like Slayer) and post-death metal ripsaw effect of British grindcore (think Napalm Death & Carcass). However, like every aggressive music genre Melodeath wasn’t created in a vacuum and thus it isn’t easy to pin it’s origins to a single place since you can find elements of it’s sound in precursors to it in both Teutonic & Bay area thrash, crossover thrash & skatepunk, most forms of early death metal, early power & progressive metal, glam, doom, second wave black metal and more while also hearing similar interpretations of composition in early 90s post-hardcore, early technical hardcore & mathcore, early metalcore, early djent, groove metal and so on that were being developed in parallel to it as well as established genres like doom and gothmetal.
So, what records came up in the discussion? Here’s the (25 song) overview that should get everyone unfamiliar with it started on how the genre’s “sound” began:
Death “Zombie Ritual” Scream Bloody Gore — Yes, Virginia, Americans might have actually created the template for melodeath in the late 80s accidentally. There’s more than just the overemphasized harmonized guitars in the intro that are reused in the Scandavian and British reinterpretations of death metal a few years later that become melodeath, but the brilliance of Chuck Schuldiner’s influence on all aspects of metal on the whole shouldn’t be overlooked as every subsequent release through till the dynamic opus The Sound of Perseverance in 1998 push boundries including in harmonizations.
Carcass “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious — Heartwork (album, and song) are typically the reference point, and for good reason, but the Halloween ’91 release by Carcass was really their sonic turning point (for the band moving away from grind) and a foundation to the genre’s forthcoming sound.
Edge of Sanity “Enigma” Unorthodox — the 1992 sophomore opus by Dan Swanö and company delivers not only a building block to the genres sound but is rumored to be the enegmatic Swano’s personal favorite as well. While not as well known perhaps as later works (Purgatory Afterglow, Crimson) the writing lacks the rawness of many of the early genre contemporaries offering a mature peek at the later direction of both the band and the melodeath sound overall.
Paradise Lost “As I Die” Shades of God — The Brits have tacked a great many genres over the years so their influence on melodeath is oft-overlooked but their incorporation of melody both in the guitars and underpinned in the growled vocals on their 1992 sophomore effort would become staples of the genre later while PL was exploring alternative composition techniques (post Draconian Times which perhaps epitomizes the refinement of their original death metal sound) and their legacy was more celebrated among the goth-and-doom crowds.
Amorphis “The Pilgrimage” the Karelian Isthmus — While not as melodic as works later in the decade (Elegy, Tuonela) the 1992 LP debut by the Finns is nonetheless a cornerstone in the early adoption of some of genre’s most important sonic qualities and the with songs like “the Pilgrimage” still appearing the band’s live repertoir after over a dozen lineup changes and compositional tangents it’s easy to understand why they are the influence they are.
Sentenced “My Sky Is Darker Than Thine” North from Here — While later Sentenced was more alt-doom and goth-rock in nature the band’s death metal roots were arguably at an apex on their sophomore effort which the lineup at the time sought to break the mold of being a Death-clone. While successful the sound was unfortunately short lived due to subsequent lineup changes but their influence on the genre survived both because of this and their subsequent releases.
Dark Tranquility “Nightfall by the Shore of Time” Skydancer – Unlike some of the other genre influencers DT came out on their first record in 93 in command of a sound fitting to the melodic death metal name rather than finding it along the way. What DT found along the way was probably one of the most expansive interpretations of what one could accomplish with the sound, some of which are arguably more interesting (Projector), influential (the Gallery) or popular (Fiction)
Testament “the Burning Times” Demonic — In ’94 Testa kicked down the door of a major sonic modification of who they were uniting the melodic thrash of their roots with a churning compositional approach worth of the album’s title. The cross-section of harmonizations over grinding riffs was unique not only for Testament but for most metal at the time. Unfortunately for both the band and the genre it was mostly a one-off attempt at the sound.
At the Gates “Terminal Spirit Disease” Terminal Spirit Disease — Slaughter the Soul (album, and song) are also typically the reference point not just for the band but for the genre as a whole, and again for good reason, but they’d already turned their page sonically a year early in ’94 with TSR.
Hypocrisy “Mind Corruption” The Fourth Dimension — After two records of churning out prototypical death metal Peter Tägtgren revamped the lineup for the 1994 release by taking over lead vocals and introduced an unmistakable composition structure utilizing melodic overtones as well as utilizing his keen sense of production.
In Flames “Behind Space” Lunar Strain — One can argue within the IF catalog there are more influential (the Jester Race) or popular (Clayman) albums but for the genre’s sound Behind Space encapsulated it so well that the band’s re-recorded it several times since but leaving much of the arrangement intact. The original rendition features Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity on vocals, released way back in 94.
the Crown “Candles” the Burning — Originally recorded as Crown of Thorns and then re-released, the Crown’s ’95 debut occasionally touches of the sound that would become melodeath but harkens well to the influence the band would have on death and speed metal through the end of the decade and beyond, including a brief stint with ATG vocalist Tomas Lindberg (Crowned in Terror).
Arch Enemy “Seed of Hate” Burning Bridges — While the band’s apex in popularity came during the years fronted by Angela Glassow after the new millennium (the Wages of Sin, Anthems of Rebellion) the early years following the demise of Carcass in the mid-90s really set the tone for both the direction of the band and the genre due to Michale Ammott’s guitar style.
Opeth “Advent” Morningrise — In 1996 when the song and album were released it’s pretty sure no one would have guessed the 13-plus minute epic would change the course of so many genres and subtly guide the band themselves on a sonic journey as cryptic as the song ‘s itself. While hardly stereotypical “melodeath” it fully encompasses so many of the genre’s later stereotypes and Opeth’s later works derived from this provide just as much influence to melodeath as they do many experimental tangents “death metal” would go on.
Immortal Souls “Snow Soul” Divine Wintertime — Although they began as a doom band by they time the Finns found international distribution they’d morphed more into a melodic death metal band. They’d continue honing their sound over the next few records but it is easy to see why the third record is an important turning point for not only themselves but also helped solidify a variation of the melodeath sound too.
Soilwork “Steelbath Suicide” Steelbath Suicide — Arriving on the scene slightly later than some of their contemporaries, in 1998, they were quintessential band in the genre achieving it’s peak moving into the turn of the millennium (A Predator’s Portrait, Natural Born Chaos). The sound and composition leans more thrash than death at times but the harmonic approach and vocalizations are genre defining.
the Haunted “Hate Song” the Haunted — Born in direct response to the demise of ATG and somewhat out of of contractual obligation to the latter’s end, the Haunted blasted onto the scene in ’98 with a post-speed metal take on melodic death. The original lineup didn’t last long, and the band’s compositional approach varied over the years but there’s no denying that were they began helped mold the genre.
Amon Amarth “Amon Amarth” Once Send from the Golden Hall — For more than a half-decade before, Amon Amarth toiled in the Swedish unknown refining their death metal chops before gaining a distribution deal of about 1,000 units on OSGH in 1998. The legacy that ensued changed the complexion of the melodeth genre helping establish the mythology of viking metal as a synonym to a tangent of the genres sound.
Darkane “Convicted” Rusted Angel – Arguably by 1999 so much of the genre, particular in their home nation Sweden, was already predefined but Darkane was one of those bands who could transcend, if for no other reason than their membership would be intertwind with the future of the genre and its spinoffs for years to come.
Shadows Fall “the First Nobel Truth” Of One Blood — While the band’s debut several year’s earlier is more death metal with progressive melodic overtones the overall sonic pivot the band took on their turn of the millennium release helped define the melodeath sound stateside in a way that hadn’t exists perhaps since Death themselves and broke open the simmering idea of melodic metalcore to boot.