Brutal death metal was the name of the game here for a while, an the subgenre remains strong. Like apple pie and McDonald’s, here, American is taken to mean “made in the USA”. While there’s plenty of brutal death metal from across the globe, the sound was truly perfected in the USA. Here’s a showcase of some of the genre’s roots and pillars. If you’re looking for fast, loud, and ultra aggressive, make sure to get this sound between your ears. Learn it, live it, love it.
New York’s Suffocation realized their formula early, sticking with it and perfecting it into the aggressive monster it quickly became. The band pairs excellent musicianship, a low guttural vocal texture, and the pounding unrelenting momentum of drums with a top-notch string section. The songwriters, or riff makers, seem to know when it’s best to back off on the tempo – which is uncommon – and let the music do the crushing. Like many of the other bands on this list, Suffocation realizes the importance of being great on a studio record, not just jaw-dropping during a live performance. The band presents it’s bloodiest in both scenarios, which is why its become one of the upper crust bands from this subgenre lately.
Dying Fetus is one of those bands who has a name that needed “explaining”, to those unfamiliar or antagonistic to the subgenre, such as… your parents. It can be difficult, but the socially aware lyrics and astute societal critique offered by the band help a lot. Like most brutal death metal, lyrics are unintelligible (the “closed captioning” provided for the “Kill Your Mother, Rape Your Dog” unofficial video is hilarious). Drums are reliant on variety and speed, showcasing the genre staple of near-constant double-bass drumming. Dying Fetus also has downtuned grinding sound, consistency, and excellent musicianship keeping these Baltimoreans at the top of their niche.
While the west coast surely had it’s offerings, during the generative period, the east coast and midwest seemed to be the epicenter for “American” brutal death metal. New York’s Immolation spearheaded admixing slower, discordant, doomier passages with fast inferno runs. The downtuned sound, the heavy reliance on double-bass drumming as a texture, and guttural vocals helped cement the band into a genre it helped to found. Like fellow New Yorkers Suffocation, Immolation embraces a live performance on par with its studio recordings, transforming it into a destination band: one a fan does not want to miss.
Immolation has a “musical brother” band, Pennsylvania’s Incantation. Based for a while in Cleveland, Ohio, Incantation gained (in)famy through an endless string of seedy dive bar club shows, and a relentless honing of its craft. Hedonistic satanism is one of Incantation’s keystones, but as is expected for the subgenre, lyrics are an unintelligible texture, an addition to music already fully realized.
Moving westward, Chicago had one of the most vibrant and active extreme metal scenes for years. Chicago has a sensibility few others possess – the ability to slow down when needed, to let the music do more heavy lifting then metronomic racing. Broken Hope, one of many excellent bands to emerge from a crown jewel of the midwest, showcases the subgenre’s elements so crisply: crushing riffs, blazing speed when needed, low guttural vocals, and blistering drums.
Web bonus tracks: Master
Florida, the most southern state, has been preserved as “save the best for last”. There can be no talk of American brutal death metal without addressing Cannibal Corpse, arguably the pillars of the entire subgenre. Faster fellow Floridians, Malevolent Creation, are represented first, to keep the sound and sheer speed in your ears in preparation for the finale. Like Dying Fetus, Malevolent Creation mastered the art of mixing a moshable “breakdown” into a riff-heavy tune. Not above incorporating influence from other rock genres, the band throws in some dirty, distorted bass for its very slightly more experimental “The Fine Art of Murder”.
Now check out the assortment of deathy finery…
The earliest Obituary seemed a transitional form between more traditional death metal, and what would become known as “brutal death”. The vocals took some getting used to, but the riffs were so irresistibly heavy that the band garnered – and retains – a massive following.
Cannibal Corpse encapsulates the genre nicely; the band’s first two albums laid a foundation for an entire generation of fellow creators, imitators, and acolytes.