Melodic Death Metal: The Point Of Entry To Extreme Metal Music

Arch Enemy’s “The World Is Yours” is hitting the charts worldwide. Amon Amarth are one of the most succesful bands in the history of Metal. In Flames change of heart touched many, and attracted a lot of hatred to the band. But what do these three bands have in common?


They are all labeled as Melodic Death Metal bands, or melodeath, if you will, but I still haven’t decided if melodeath is a pejorative term or what.

Back to Arch Enemy. Reading the comments on a FB page, some guy wrote that in his opinion they are “too mainstream.” That statement has stuck in my mind, and i’s one of the reasons I am writing this. What did he mean by mainstream? I’m pretty sure that Arch Enemy albums don’t sell as well as those made by rap or pop artists. Moreover, I guess that they are pretty heavy, and inaudible to the ears of any commercial music listener. But I do get what he meant. To some, extreme metal music must be left to the underground. I agree in terms. Unlike their punk peers, Metal bands have to make money from their music, and that means some kind of commercial activity more or less. But that’s not the point.

Arch Enemy is an example I took because it was the first band I recognized as Melodic Death Metal. There were others for sure, but I wasn’t able to recognize them as melodeth. Further questions added to the discussion: who buys Arch Enemy or Amon Amarth CDs and who goes to Melodic Death Metal shows? Mostly extreme metal fans, and perhaps, some old school Heavy Metal fans who want to experiment with such a different atmosphere.

The point is: melodic death metal is too noisy even to NWOBHM, hard rock, and old school Heavy Metal fans. And then we get to the point I mentioned on the title, and that’s also a personal experience: melodic death metal was my point of entry to extreme metal music. Melodic Death Metal does this link between old school Heavy Metal and extreme metal just because musically speaking it is very near to old school Heavy Metal musical structures. In a nutshell, Melodic Death Metal is traditional Heavy Metal with guttural singing. Of course not that simple, but it helps the analysis.

Listen to Amon Amarth’s “Guardians Of Aargard:”


One must think that Melodic Death Metal directly derived from old school Heavy Metal, but that’s not the case. To understand that, we have to fall back to the mid 1980s when thrash/death/black metal bands’ quest was to reach the speed of light. Bands were pushing the speed limits in order to get more aggressive and heavier. In 1987, it was reached by the grindcore masters Napalm Death with “Scum.” No one has ever played so fast before. Boundaries of aggression, speed, brutality were peaked. With the conquest of the west, there was no reason to search for the speed of light anymore . Thus, death metal bands started to slow down to introduce more melody to their songs. Guitars led the way with more refined and slower riffs, in addition to guitar duos as in old school Heavy Metal songs. Vocals lines added more vibrating choruses besides maintaining the harsh screaming, and death grows. Later on, some bands introduced keyboards to create a darker and hollower atmosphere, and also to maintain, or create, emotional peaks to their songs.

That instrumental change in order to get more melodic was the thing that appealed most to old school Heavy Metal fans. The grunting is something that one get used through time. We, metal fans in its broad term, are all used to some levels of musical aggression, thus Melodic Death Metal was able to attract more fans to extreme metal slowing down the pace, and refining the guitar playing, plus extra creativity on riffing.

Carcass, one of the pioneers of grindgore and death metal, with their 1993 effort, “Heartwork,” were one of the first extreme metal bands to slow down, and to mix more melodic tunes in their music. “Heartwork” follows the musical changes in 1991’s “Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious.” “Heartwork” is a seminal album which featured to the world that the dark, pain and misery can be taken to other levels of aggression. This world is not as simple as one may think. Metal musicians gave life a bad name. The term “evilish beauty” could be first used to a Metal band. Unfortunatelly, Carcass disbanded soon after in 1996, but sowed their black seeds which darkly blossomed in the distant Gothenburg, Sweden where bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and At The Gates got the evilish flame. And it’s been more than twenty years that the torch is being passed on.

These contrasts between harsh and melodic, aggressive and harmonious, the dark and the bright, are proper to the Heavy Metal fine art of bringing into songs the complexity of life itself. Melodic Death Metal bands refined that fine art in what I call musical dialectic. Life is full of contrasts, or better yet, life is a contrast. Someone said that life loves tragedies, doesn’t it? Besides that, all that complexity was brought to the songwriting giving birth to a subgenre that was capable of resuming a myriad of human emotions into songs. That blend of harsh vocals and melodious guitar riffs is not really new in Metal world, Judas Priest have been dong it for a long time, but Melodic Death Metal bands pushed it to its borders transforming it into something really astonishing and breathtaking. Listening to a Melodic Death Metal is a thrilling and daring activity, because one really doesn’t know what is going to come: a calm and tranquil tune or a furious and brutal piece of music, or even everything in the middle. That takes a lot of creativity.

And now back again to Arch Enemy just to mention that the band was founded in 1996 by Carcass guitarist Michael Amott. Anything familiar?