Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An amazing look at early death metal

If you at all love historical looks at death metal, you'll be amazed by this.

Within the bowels of Google Groups are massive archives of Usenet posts from the early '90s. One of these archives is of the old Usenet group alt.rock-n-roll.metal.death, the first (to my knowledge) place for death metal fans from across the world to talk about their favorite genre online. The oldest posts (from the inception of the group) come from November 1993 and extend forward from there. As you can probably guess, getting to read in-depth discussion of death metal from an era right at one of the peaks of extreme metal is utterly fascinating. 1994, where a bulk of the posts originate, was a seminal year for black and death metal- and soon afterwards, one of the darkest times for extreme metal as a whole. This archive of posts is an invaluable look at the culture of extreme metal from the early-mid '90s, and it's amazing to see just how much things change as well as how much they stay the same.

There's a lot of really interesting aspects to these early posts. For one, how even in 1994, the idea of 'death metal' was all but consolidated and established in the minds of metalheads. The idea was imprecise and fuzzy even then, after many of death metal's most formative works had been firmly established as canon- Slayer is tossed out as a sort-of death metal band while arguments over where Carcass fell at any point in their career are a regular debate. Even more fascinating (and somewhat funny) is just how many people considered death metal to be a transitory fad. Many of the posts on the BBS state that death metal had already been pushed as extreme as it could go and was ultimately an artistic dead end, with some suggesting that oldschool thrash and speed metal (two distinct ideas) would soon make for a resurgence. Response to albums like 'Heartwork' is perplexing- they associate it heavily with bands like Iron Maiden, which seems odd, but remember that the idea of melodeath didn't even exist yet.

So what are big talking points in 1994? Cynic is one of the most prominent, with opinions of 'Focus' just as divided as they are now. Oddly enough, the usage of terms like 'technical' or 'progressive death metal' were firmly established, and bands like the aforementioned Cynic, Atheist, and Pestilence are heavily lauded on the BBS for their creativity and forward-thinking music. Others look towards grindcore, with Napalm Death always on the tips of tongues as well as Anal Cunt, Meat Shits, and Extreme Noise Terror. Deicide is a hot topic, with some referring to a strange, never-explained incident where the band was beaten up by their fans(?). Entombed was the preeminent Swedeath band, but Dismember and Grave rarely come up.

Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, are the elements which haven't changed. Intelligent, refined discussion on the nature of subgenres and style are common, and far more civil and even-handed than you're likely to find on modern metal forums. Discussions about death metal in the greater context of heavy metal and where the genre might go in the future- if it would have a future at all- were an essential part of the scene, just like they are now. And, of course, the overwhelming passion for the style, the discovery of new artists, and trips to the record shop were just as essential in '94 as they are today- though the album covers might have changed, it's truly amazing just how little has changed on the way through the years. Check it out; it's a truly amazing tribute to the years many of us missed out on.


  1. dude, that's like, real journalism right there! looking forward to checking these out.