Dissecting Melodic Death Metal v2


Fev 27 2008, 15h34

This is going to be a rather lengthy and throughly journal of the origins of melodic death metal, the influences and what major bands there are which made the genre into what it is today. I am going to start with a history perspective and end with a short summary of what has been claimed so far.

The History
It all started a cold rainy day in Gothenburg... Weather aside, I cannot tell what type of weather it was but the weather is often terrible here, especially during Wintertimes. As usual, being the cultural matrix Gothenburg is, it is boiling with musical activities and the late 80s were no exception. Especially within the metal scene we can find a few young men that just started out their musical careers bearing the names of the Björler twin brothers, Mikael Stanne, Peter Dronjak, Anders Fridén and Jesper Strömblad. Maybe they just wanted an escape to the terrible weather haunting us Gothenburgers as a plague, but nevertheless, together or not together they formed various side projects such Septic Broiler, In Flames, HammerFall and At the Gates. Other band names worth mentioning are Dimension Zero and Ceremonial Oath, but as these bands are no longer and had to give in for the main projects these men later formed, the are just added here as a side note.

However, as we slowly moved into the beginning of the 90s, At the Gates released the very promiscuous album The Red in the Sky Is Ours which directly became famous underground and thus set out the first clear distinction of melodic death metal compared to all other existing genres, especially the already existing Swedish death metal scene and it is clear that heavy inspiration is taken from bands such as Entombed, Dismember and Nihilist. Septic Broiler changed name into Dark Tranquillity and released Skydancer (it is incorrectly tagged here on Last.fm as Skydancer/Of Chaos and Eternal Night which was the later release of this full length bunched together with the EP that came after it. I am only speaking of the original release of Skydancer in this particular context) in 1993 while In Flames released Lunar Strain one year later. These three releases would become the basis of what we total call melodic death metal/Gothenburg.

What one realizes upon these listens are the heavy Swedish classical folk influences found on each release. Of course each band has their own personal sound to add where At the Gates and In Flames derive a lot from thrash. All three bands derive from NWOBHM as well in addition to said thrash elements. However, while we can clearly hear some thrash inspired elements it is above a technical level thrash would normally rely on, especially when we start adding three guitar layers. The intro to Dead Eternity found on The Jester Race are great examples where we first here the title melody played on one guitar, backed up three tones down or so by an additional guitar and then as well backed up by a main riff in the background by a third. This is if anything incredibly common among melodic death metal bands, especially when adding melodic layers. Of course this technique is hardly unique and limited to melodic death metal alone, and can if anything be derived from classical heavy metal bands and NWOBHM such as Iron Maiden where three guitar layers is even more common now when they are six man rather than five. These elements are however very uncommon in both thrash and classical old school death metal and it defines the melodic elements to be found in this very genre in particular. Another instrument that later has been added by many bands of this genre is the use of a keyboard to make the music more varied and allow the bands to create additional melodies. The mix of clean vocals and even sometimes guest female singers can be found and are also used to create melody.

However, the early 90s were tough years for metal bands. Metal has long left its glory from the mainstream scene in favor for grunge and only those that managed to produce the gems of their specific genres preservered. As noticed, At the Gates also met a certain death during the mid-90s when the Björler twins decided to leave the band for even today unknown reasons. They later reformed together with Peter Dolving to form The Haunted. The Haunted has very little to do with melodic death metal and the music made with At the Gates though, more leaning towards a post thrash with groove elements similar to Pantera.

However, in the wake of At the Gate's split up In Flames and Dark Tranquillity were supposed to record their best records accordingly, being The Jester Race and The Gallery. Whereas people agree these are their best releases remains a matter of opinion, but both albums were setting up a new pinnacle within the melodic death metal scene. At the same time, influenced by their music, other bands such as Soilwork, Arch Enemy, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Eucharist and Amon Amarth followed in hope for the same underground fame their predecessors before them had earned.

But at the end of the 90s a notable change happened within the melodic death metal scene: In Flames released the experimental Reroute to Remain which was hardly greatly received by fans of old and it caused a heavy split up within In Flames' fan base between those that strictly sticked to their old era starting with the Jester Race and ending with Whoracle, also sometimes known as the Whoracle era, and those following their newer type of music being remiscient of modern rock. While Dark Tranquillity never drastically derived from their melodic death metal roots that In Flames did, they also changed their sound greatly with the very experimental Projector. The main difference was a more industrialized sound found in industrial rock and industrial metal with the addition of a keyboard to most often create electronical melodies.

When two of the remaining Three Kings of the genre had underwent such notably changes in their sound, other bands followed their examples which created what we call the second of wave. Bands such as Disarmonia Mundi, Sonic Syndicate, Arch Enemy and Soilwork went down the same path In Flames did and started to incorporate more lighter rock and groove elements into their sound whereas bands such as Scar Symmetry and Mors Principium Est tried to bridge the gap between the old school genre and the newer more modern sound. Lastly we have bands that still are strong to the genre or even trying to revive the old sound such as The Wake, The Duskfall and Insomnium.

The Others
There are also a few bands outside the genre that sometimes are bunched together with other melodic death metal bands because of various reasons. Most fans of melodic death metal also tend to enjoy these bands mentioned below. Such bands are Norther, Kalmah and Children of Bodom that are incorporating the same growl-types to be performed by most melodic death metal bands. They are keyboard front heavy to the point almost being symphonic and use a lot of thrash-like riffs to back up their otherwise power metal riffs and melodies. The chromatic scale is often used in addition. In general these bands have very little to do with melodic death metal. People mistakingly take them as such because of their sometimes melodic riffs and keyboard melodies.

Then we have the viking/folk metal bands which also started to experience fame during late 90s with bands such as Ensiferum and Finntroll. Obviously these bands derive a lot of folk elements into their metal sound which makes it somewhat similar to melodic death metal although some of the basic riffs are more similar to heavy metal than thrash/death metal. Another element aside from the riffs that is quite different compared to melodic death metal are the typical group shouts which are more or less unique to these two genres. An artist which lingers around the area of melodic death metal is Wintersun.

A little side note would be that Amon Amarth sometimes is more often bunched up here because people mistakingly take them for viking metal because of their viking-inspired lyrics but so is not the case. Amon Amarth is melodic death metal. A quick listen to Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds will reveal they have more in common with At the Gates in sound than previously mentioned bands.

Then we also have very strange off-shots that sometimes are classified to the genre, in particular, Opeth, although they obviously don't belong to the genre at all. As noticed, Opeth if anything has very little or to the point of nothing to do with melodic death metal more than having a few slightly remiscient death metal riffs along with death metal growls added with clean vocals. If Opeth as such needs to be defined, they are performing progressive metal as most listeners can clearly tell the heavy jazz influences to be found. Their record Damnation is a great example, especially the song Windowpane. As such, Opeth among the copycats can barely be classified as death metal because of a few death metal riffs and a typical death metal growl.

The Summary
With the new melodic death metal generation that emerged the early 21th century, we can notice one slight change, namely techniques. Bands like Scar Symmetry and Mors Principium Est are far more technical than At the Gates ever were so maybe we are seeing some progressive elements taking form. As In Flames continue to progress the sound keeps evovling through that direction as well and maybe melodic death metal is indeed becoming far more versatile than it emerged as to begin with. A few bands are still trying to keep the music which was created for over 10 years ago though, mimicking the landmark set by Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and At the Gates with their The Gallery, The Jester Race and Slaughter of the Soul releases.

It is right now impossible to tell where the genre is heading but to say melodic death metal is dead would be anything but a lie as the genre is as alive as ever - just a few bands bit the dust on the way. With new bands joining the genre every or so five years, I am sure we will be available to enjoy and listen to this music in all its glory, all the way from those searing and crunchy riffs, growls and to the point where the melodies touches you with their beauty at the core of your very soul.


  • cheeses

    I hate melodic death metal but I like Eucharist. You should download their music, since it's available for free.

    Fev 27 2008, 18h31
  • moggles

    indeed a small journal

    Fev 28 2008, 1h25
  • LeaTelamon

    To moggles: It became longer than expected ;) A lot longer in fact. I am just too lazy to edit it. To cheeses: Can you explain why you even hate it?

    Fev 28 2008, 12h57
  • -phage-

    This must be one of the most detailed piece of the history of melodic death metal. Nice work, although I get a rush from adjective good associated with Eternal Tears of Sorrow :). Aside that I'd like to add Carcass and particulary their album Heartworks to the early influentor to the birth of melodic death metal. Some of the mentioned guitar techniques and riffs are seen somewhat in that album although is has never considered as melodic death metal album (nor is the band). Usually the history of the melodic death metal is divided to the first wave bands and the second wave bands. The first ones were already mentioned ATG, DT and IF but I thing Eucharist and several other mid-nineties bands could be counted to belong the first wave. Clear second wave bands appeared in the late nineties and at the beginning of 2000. Some of them had sound that was loyal to the original one but many of them added something new and thereby deviated from the original style. I think this is the place where some metal fans started to disrespect melodic death metal. Maybe the reason was that the music was more easily approachable (more mainstream) and it also gained popularity. Clean vocal appeared to the music of several bands. This might also be one of the reasons for dissing the music. Interestingly DT has throughout their career had clean vocals but as one the icons of MDM they had got away with it without general dissing. (Fact is that the music DT makes isn't really that hard or heavy and they aren't aggressive in a way many other bands are). So now we have some old school fans who claims almost every MDM band has sold out themselves (except DT), In Flames being the biggest scapegoat. they generally accept only the original style which is actually, as LeaT pointed out, based on traditional swedish folk music. Then we have new fans that came along the second wave. They are the untrue metal fans according to the old school fans (mallcore kid is the funny term sometimes used here). NB being old school fan isn't dependent of age, a young fan can be also old school fan and diss equally well (without any knowledge of history) present day melodic death metal bands (although they always remember to mention DT as only true MDM band). I hoped Lea that you wouldn't have used nu metal as an example since it makes little obscure what part of it you're referring. Bands like Korn, Mudvayne and Disturbed are totally different and yet they all are considered as nu metal. It seemed I lost my point long ago, I better stop now and re-think things I said, although I'll push that post button anyway :)

    Fev 28 2008, 14h16
  • nexusofchaos

    I miss the days when melodeath was good.

    Fev 28 2008, 19h53
  • LeaTelamon

    Thanks for your long and nice input -phage-. Very much appreciated :) I think this kind of history retelling was needed somewhere along the way and I did consider Carcass but I am not too familiar with them and I prefer not to speak about things I don't know of myself. I was going to use a term leaning more towards modern metal or rock but as you understand... none of them are good terms really. In the end I figured most people would understand if I used the term nu metal as In Flames a bit unfairly are categorized under right now. And yep, the good rush probably depends that I mention it was unfair they never got as much fame as the other bands got when they emerged but that's because I think they as a band are quite underrated as they at least used to produce a lot of nice melodic death metal during their time. I just wanted to highlight this little piece of a lost metal gem ;) I should probably have mentioned clean vocals as means to create more melody as well as female singers but then again... it is hardly genre overgrasping as DT were the only ones during the first generation to use this technique and then it was later discarded during the second half again to be rehashed by other bands. One could argue whether they are trying to incorporate more power metal sounds (arguebly Scar Symmetry's clean vocals are very power metalish) but yep, I am not sure what I am trying to say either. I mainly wanted to give a fairly objective view of how the genre came to be and then move on what influences it has while maybe also trying to myself explain why some people seem to dislike this genre so much and what differencies there are between the new wave and the old. Bla bla :)

    Fev 28 2008, 21h06
  • LeaTelamon

    Also -phage- did you notice a few comments I got where the ones we previously discussed? Boring ;)

    Fev 28 2008, 21h06
  • LeaTelamon

    And last.fm fails as well for not knowing what Skydancer is :(

    Fev 28 2008, 21h07
  • Bienie85

    Glad you didn't mention Carcass actually. They have nothing to do with the creation of melodeath. Heartwork is basically a ripoff of several Gothenburg bands. They probably realized that no one likes grindcore and decided to try something else :P Even Amon Amarth have more to do with melodeath's development than Carcass do. Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds is of the early proto-melodeath style like AtG's first two and In Flames' Lunar Strain/Subterranean; with the haunting distant vocals and crisp melodic guitar riffs (but no violins!). I'd like to add that alot of the inspiration for early melodeath came from Swedish death metal like Entombed/Dismember/Nihilist that were already using more melodies and thrash elements than the American death metal bands were. Melodeath could not be separately defined until The Red in the Sky is Ours, as you noted. Also I think you should have added The Duskfall in the 00's era, they are the closest you can come to old school melodeath nowadays.

    Fev 28 2008, 22h16
  • Bienie85

    Also the confusion of the second wave is rather more complex than some people realize. It's more of a cataclysmic split of the genre that happened somewhere around 2000-2002 when bands like In Flames and Soilwork took one path leading to lighter atmosphere and a general change in lyrical themes. A whole throng of bands followed their lead, like Sonic Syndicate, Disarmonia Mundi and Arch Enemy. Then the other side, which delved deeper into despair and darkness, was spearheaded by Dark Tranquillity and followed by bands such as Insomnium, The Wake and The Duskfall. There were also a few bands that tried to 'bridge the gap' so to speak and use a bit of both sides, most notably Scar Symmetry and Mors Principium Est.

    Fev 28 2008, 22h29
  • LeaTelamon

    Thank you very much for your input Biene :) I will indeed take into consideration of what you've mentioned into my journal (it does require a heavy update, I noticed some parts are hardly readable...). Btw let's discard this annoying English, shall we? I feel rather stupid speaking to a Swede in English... Så, det jag också kom på som skulle vara bra att ha med är nog den japanska scenen som förmodligen om inte annat kan kopplas till den nya generation. Däremot det jag iaf noterade med Sonic Syndicate var att de var mer melodeath innan de signade till Nuclear Blast. Det som jag tycker osar illa är ju att Nuclear Blast är ju som dom är och jag får definitivt intrycket att Nuclear Blast hade nog kanske lite väl för mycket att säga om deras musik. Och vilken term skulle du helst vilja föredra för att definiera den nya formen av In Flames, Soilwork m m? Tänkte för den delen slänga in Amon Amarth runt nämnanden av folk/viking metal... men det är ju inte riktigt det ena eller andra, bara en dum misuppfattning av allmänheten för att deras texter handlar om vikingar.

    Fev 28 2008, 23h24
  • LANjackal

    Very good encyclopedic journal. You should consider adding it to Wikipedia :)

    Fev 29 2008, 3h38
  • Bienie85

    Ja det blir lite jobbigt bara, när mitt tangentbord inte har åäö! charmap ftw Det där med In Flames och Soilwork är svårt, jag tycker nog att de fortfarande är melodeath, men genren finns nu i två tappningar. Det jag skulle kunna tänka mig är att kalla det 'melodic extreme metal', eftersom den största skillnaden mellan de två typerna av mdm är att IF / Soilwork versionen har tagit bort en stor del av death metal komponenterna, medans DT och följeslagare har behållit bl.a sångstilen och blast beatsen. Och ja, Amon Amarth tillhör definitivt mdm scenen och inte viking metal. STNW är helt och hållet en första generations mdm skiva, och är ju från den tiden ('94). Även deras senare album, fram till Crusher, är djupt påverkade av Göteborgsscenen.

    Fev 29 2008, 5h45
  • -phage-

    Good argumenting Beanie. About Carcass there seems to be two different opinion (as always) and according to other one it's just like you said. So, let's leave it as it is. I have to disagree with you about AE being the lighter side of second wave MDM. What comes to their lyrical themes, they ain't anything happy-happy-joy-joy nor they are about similar subjects as Sonic Syndicate (imo that band is a disgrace to otherwise great swedish metal scene). AE is actually more thrash influenced and less melodic that other bands you mentioned and they evidently lack clean vocals^^. I think that to precisely define the early history of MDm is as hard as it is with thrash metal. Does it actually matter who was the first and who invented the whole thing. I believe such notion can't be made. Let's just be happy with the knowledge that IF, DT, ATG and somewhat Ceremonial Oath were among the first ones. I still don't understand why some people can't live with the fact that that nearly 20 years old style has changed shape and the bands inventing the sound are also 20 years older and they might want to evolve too. Ok, In Flames doesn't make MDM anymore, but it's their right and they (nor any band) owns nothing to their fans in a sense of keeping the same style throughout their career. It's incredibly arrogant to assume so. I just don't understand why this site (as actually are all metal music spesific sites nowdays) is filled only with name-calling and flaming. And Lea, ETOS belong to the spesific group of MDM (I wouldn't even like to call them MDM) that I hate. Other bands are Kalmah, CoB, Wintersun etc. that all have one thing in common: the horrible way to play keyboards. So that's why the rash from the good adjective associated with ETOS^^ Let's not start to debate about it, it won't help it and I must say that I prefer Neew IF over those bands any time given. Always.

    Fev 29 2008, 8h31
  • -phage-

    And sorry about english, I could read more than 90 % of your discussion in swedish, but my output sucks so much that I held myself a right to communicate in english^^

    Fev 29 2008, 8h33
  • MATI9630

    And last.fm fails as well for not knowing what Skydancer is :( funny that you mentioned it... last.fm does, though they have got Skydancer tagged incorrectly http://www.last.fm/music/Dark+Tranquillity/Skydancer%2B%252F%2BOf%2BChaos%2BAnd%2BEternal%2BLight here you go.

    Fev 29 2008, 17h12
  • LeaTelamon

    Ah, danke, I added it and Skydancer was the only one not showing up. To -phage-, regarding EToS, I obviously don't agree with you. It is true they use more keyboards than the average band but I think they are by far not close to Kalmah (I gave that band one try, threw it in the trash bin). I also agree that the roots of MDM are hard to define. I tried my best and I even tried to look up the roots of thrash and death accordingly as to suggest whether MDM emerged from a more thrashy or deathy sound. In the end we got stuck as it obviously is a bit of both. Some genres have very clear and evident creators but MDM is very murky... We know the genre emerged during early 90s with the Kings from Gothenburg but that's as far as we can go. But like I said, At the Gates didn't really refine their sound into a more common MDM sound until Terminal Spirit Disease/Slaughter of the Soul and I guess it would be the most fair to say the scene was a de facto during the mid-90s. to Biene, change keyboard settings ;) although you might loose some other keys then... to Mati, thanks a lot. Although why did they tag it with the EP?!?!?! *wants to tear something apart* Maybe I should refer to MA more... at least they get things RIGHT!

    Mar 1 2008, 0h20
  • LeaTelamon

    Det är nog intressant så... Å ena sidan tycker jag att dom har börjat gå tillbaka igen (men det var ju mest att dom ville försöka göra alla sina fans lika glada. Huruvida dom lyckades är ju en annan fråga...). Har inte hört Soilwork faktiskt, eller tja, det jag hörde gillade jag inte sen så funderade jag väl inte så mycket mer på den saken så jag vågar inte uttrycka mig om just dom. Skulle man kanske snarare kunna tagga det som en form av neo-MDM? Fast å ena sidan håller dom på att totalt tappa sina metal rötter, MA listar dom t o m som modern rock och där håller jag nog med faktiskt... även om IF iaf gjorde ett hyfsat försök att gå tillbaka. Menar inte att dom lyckades dock... Skulle kunna tänka mig kanske neo-melodic modern metal? lol det låter inte bra...

    Mar 1 2008, 0h24
  • LeaTelamon

    and thanks LAN, such small things helps me going ;) At least better than the emo kids we have a bit further up (scroll!) that can't even give me a constructive comment. So much use for spending over an hour writing this.

    Mar 1 2008, 0h25
  • LeaTelamon

    Stop reply to this journal a while... I am gonna bring it down officially for a major edit. Feel free to comment again once it is up back.

    Mar 1 2008, 14h51
  • LeaTelamon

    Version 2 is up and I like it a lot more myself!

    Mar 1 2008, 16h01
  • -phage-

    One question before I read further: I understood that Dimension Zero are still active and didn't they just released a new album (He Who Shall Not Bleed)?

    Mar 2 2008, 14h14
  • -phage-

    Stupid thing you can't edit your comments. It's much better now, good job. I still somewhat disagree about Arch Enemy, but I believe you have some point more clear to a musician that to an average joe as myself. You didn't mention Eternal Tears of Sorrow. I'd still place them in the same group with Kalmah and CoB. although their career begun abound mid nineties, their earlier production wasn't what it is nowdays (overdoing keyboards), so their contribution to the development on melodic death metal is within the second wave and not the early years (MDM is swedish invent, no doubt about it). But it's getting better and this is exactly what web 2.0 is about.

    Mar 2 2008, 14h24
  • LeaTelamon

    They are? I think I checked them up... thought they were split up last time I checked. Got some album from them, it was old demo stuff. But a quick look on MA should tell us the truth I guess. Ah, they are actually indeed very reformed with Jesper Strömblad at the front. I suppose he left In Flames to recreate Dimension Zero. And yes it is stupid, although we can just bear with it right now ;) What do you disagree about Arch Enemy? Their sound? I mainly incorporated what Biene said (removed the opinionated bias towards EToS) and such, it looks in general a lot more comprehensive. If I am going to change it I need to know exactly what you mean. Remember, this is mainly about being as objective as possible, it is not only my own opinions based here, my name just happened to be at the end of it ;) I am not sure about that. Eternal Tears of Sorrow's first album had no keyboards, it wasn't until later they became more and more keyboard heavy. While it is arguebly a Swedish invention Metal Archives don't list them as power metal either, and that is the outside source I have used to get dates and such right. While MA can be edited by its own members it is far more complete than most other metal databases. As for the genre goes, no one is free to change that except the owners of the site which listen to the music. Well, I often trust MA because I find them to be quite right on issues some people aren't. As for the later production, I partly agree but also remember that they changed style a lot after their split up. MA also lists them as symphonic death metal, but then again, such is the case with the In Flames too. While they indeed had a lot to contribute at the creation of the genre they hardly don't anymore. At least not when it comes to the old sound.

    Mar 2 2008, 17h21
  • -phage-

    Do you know what's the story behind MA, are they even qualified to be such general reference. I got such picture that they're just a bunch of metal fans, nothing more, and their classifications are often based on their personal opinions, objectivity being long gone. I'd trust wikipedia more since it lacks that...hmm...enthuisiasm, which usually blurs your vision and is related to what we know is being True Metal Fan.

    Mar 2 2008, 20h24
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