Straightforward Savagery and Palatable Extremity: In Defence of Deathcore

Given that the history of metal is somewhat inexplicably defined by both a staunch dedication to its sonic code and a constant evolution in sound, the myriad of subgenres strewn throughout its five decades say much about metal’s complicated past, and indeed future. From hair metal to blackgaze, screamo to nu-metal, most of these stylistic detours are quickly discredited by many for their corruption of metal values – yet the emergence of deathcore at the turn of the century inspired a particularly vitriolic backlash, a spit-train of especially bone-headed bellyaching following in its wake that decried a terrible betrayal of the scene’s self-imposed code of conduct.

The most common misconception is that, given the vigorously underground death metal movement from which it was born, deathcore represents a dilution of the sort of straightforward savagery that would only fly in extreme metal circles. However, just a cursory glance at the genre’s origins, the first wave of major deathcore players (All Shall Perish, Suicide Silence, Despised Icon) and the bands that inspired them, will reveal a genuine love of authentic bona fide death metal, with special plaudits to the likes of Devourment, Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus with their crushing, street-tough grooves and tangible hardcore influence.

It is interesting, therefore, that although almost universally acknowledged to be 100% death metal, these pioneering East Coast based ‘slam’ acts demonstrate that blending hardcore and death metal was far from new. We need look no further than New York ultra-brutes Suffocation, whose blast ‘n’ breakdown approach spawned a legion of chancers yet also without question helped to propagate the more guttural, unfettered barbarity of the early deathcore phenomenon. Even looking further back, bands like Repulsion and Unseen Terror merged the flailing tempos of extreme metal with straight up hardcore punk, whereas Assuck’s brual deathgrind and Despise You’s furious powerviolence were unique in being equally embraced by the hardcore scene and uncovering these thrilling new genres to a legion of hardcore kids. Elsewhere, the mid-paced grotesquery of Obituary is writ large across deathcore’s formative years, and just listen to Sepultura‘s ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’ or Slayer‘s immortal ‘Raining Blood’ and deny they have some of the most skull-shattering breakdowns of all time. In terms of its influences, few genres can claim to be ‘more metal than thou’ with such credibility, and although slightly easier to digest than their death metal inspirations, it was all still as scabrous as unholy fuck.

Perhaps more problematic for scoffing diehards was the way these bands looked. More often to be found sporting baseball caps, short hair and white t-shirts than the typical uniform of their denim-garbed, black-clad peers, the fact that early acts such as Ion Dissonance and The Red Chord sounded just as intense and aggressive as any death metal band in the game was instantly dismissed because their appearance set them significantly apart. As astonishing as it is embarrassing, these phoney standards played a large part in the vilification of deathcore. In this, we can look at how deathcore coincided in the early 00’s with both the emergence of platforms such as iTunes (with Youtube following a few years after) and the initial social media boom ushered in by MySpace,  all of which had the sort of global impact to introduce a generation of people to virtually every music culture and subculture out there, exposing new worlds from which to cherry pick and changing listening habits to such an extent that being grounded in any one ‘scene’ has swiftly fallen by the wayside in recent years. As such, metal fans nowadays seem to conform less to the stereotypical denim and leather image, and audiences more and more seem to incorporate those who, the more small minded of our world, would have judged for being there. And that can only be a good thing.

It is certainly true that, as with many subgenres, over-saturation and the endless recycling of cliches swiftly eclipsed an initial flurry of thrilling new music, the repetitious breakdowns, sub drops and pig squeals marking an easy target for online trolls and snarky elitists to swoop upon. Add to this the likes of Emmure and Attila, bands which have come to represent the creative low point of deathcore’s enduring history, and the backlash may seem justifiable. However, it is worth noting that these bands would probably be the first to admit that they were not influenced by genuine death metal in the first place, and whilst their music amounts to little more than a series of tacked-together breakdowns, it is only wilful ignorance to reject the notion that many bands given rise from the deathcore scene have gone on to turn in some incredible records and sustain credible, prosperous careers.

Some may point to the fact that many of the deathcore scene’s notable contributors have embarked on a slow retreat from the genres sound, looking to escape the negative connotations that came with the tag. Most obvious of these is Arizona crew Job For A Cowboy, who garnered a vast following via their Myspace page and debut EP Doom in 2005, before all but abandoning deathcore prior to the creation of first full-length Genesis (the band subsequently evolved into the ultra-sophisticated tech-prog heard on their stunning Sun Eater LP in 2014). The majority of their peers however seem to display an organic maturing of sound rather than a conscious hotfooting away from the scene. And so whilst recent albums from Whitechapel and Suicide Silence determinedly push the genre forward (albeit with varying degrees of quality), there remains a strain of ugly, sewer-level brutality to sate the appetites of long-time fans, whereas beyond this it is the second tier likes of The Contortionist, The Faceless etc. – bands which always strayed far closer to progressive territories than those around them – which have gone furthest off-track. All in all, the demise of deathcore has been greatly exaggerated.

The truth is that in 2019 deathcore remains in rude health. Scene veterans Carnifex, Despised Icon, Chelsea Grin and Oceano continue to crush audiences the world over, and an exciting new breed including New Jersey’s Fit For An Autopsy, Washington’s Enterprise Earth and Sunderland-based blood-spitters Osiah prove that the formula can still generate the same sort of creative fury that it always has. There is even an argument to say that it not only spawned the sub-subgenres of djent and beatdown, but also inspired a renewed interest in old school death metal both in backlash to, and by its association with, deathcore. It is this enduring spirit, a significant impact on metal’s ever-mutating sphere and its straightforward refusal to die that means that this most disparaged of metallic sub-strains deserves to be cast in a fresh light nearly twenty years after it kick-started a whole new era of palatable extremity. Long live deathcore.

Words: Tony Bliss

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