Extreme metal is a quite vague and broad concept. Nevertheless, the term is often used to seperate the heavier genres from the more traditional and melodic ones. What is really the criteria for a heavy metal genre to be regarded as extreme? And which are the classic extreme metal genres?
While glam metal made heavy metal more commercial and accepteble for a wider audience in the 80's other subgenres took metal in more extreme directions. The most popular of them was glam metal's ugly cousin thrash metal but several other extreme metal genres were developped as well . One common trait for these genres is that they are more extreme than the more traditional metal genres when it comes to speed, intensity, production, lyrics and/or vocal style.
As thrash metal also was getting a more commercial appeal at the end of the decade some of these genres become the haven of metal fans that wanted an alternative. As we already did a standalone thrash metal song we have chosen five of the other subgenres for our extreme metal medley; speed metal, doom metal, death metal, grindcore and black metal. Our interpretations are based on the old school sound of each genre.
Of the five subgenres speed metal is the less distinct one. Some might even say it's not a genre. As the name implies the most important criteria is the fast tempo, which is a trait the genre shares with thrash metal. The vocals however are often more melodic and the music less intricate than in thrash metal. Bands from the 80's that have been characterized as speed metal bands include Motörhead, Venom, Accept (the song "Fast as a Shark") and early Helloween. The subgenre is not very common today but in the 2000's the power metal band Dragonforce was also labelled speed metal because of their extremely fast pace.
Doom metal also focuses on tempo but unlike speed metal the music is slow. The lyrics are important and they often deal with despair and the unavoidable doom. Doom metal bands are highly inspired by early Black Sabbath and an important subgenre distinction comes with different vocal styles. The traditional or epic doom metal of Candlemass is sung with a clean operatic voice while the later death/doom of a band like Paradise Lost is done by the growling technique. Many later subgenres have emerged from doom metal, like gothic metal, sludge metal and stoner metal.
Death metal is a versatile genre that combines the high speed of thrash metal with technical drumming, slow breakdowns, growling vocals and frenetic high speed guitar solos. The genre was cemented by the band Death (what a great and adequate band name!) from Florida (which became an important centre for the genre). A lot of popular and creative death metal subgenres have later been developped, like melodic death metal, progressive death metal and symphonic death metal.
Grindcore has an obvious punk influence and is a mix of heavy metal and the hardcore punk bands from the early 1980's. The music is very aggressive with intense vocals, low tuned distorted guitars, biting overdriven bass and double bass drum blast beasts. The lyrics are often anarchistic, gory and humorous. British band Napalm Death is most often cited as the first grindcore band. The songs are often short and the so-called "microsong" lasting for only a few seconds is quite common. (That's why we didn't make our grindcore song too long either!)
Black metal is sometimes falsely attributed to King Diamond (because of the corps paint), Venom (because of the title of their second album) and Celtic Frost (because of vocalist Tom Warrior's grunting). Noen of these bands are black metal musically speaking but they all had an important influence on the genre. Muscially the closest thing to black metal in the 80's would be the Swedish band Bathory. The real breakthrough however came with the Norwegian wave of bands from the early 90's, like Darkthrone, Burzum and Mayhem. The Norwegian black metal scene became famous for brutal murders and ridicolous and tragic church burnings but the bands also created a whole new genre based on shrieking vocals, fast paced tempos, atmospheric break downs, grim lo-fi production and satanic lyrics. A few years later another wave of black metal emerged with tighter production and more melodic elements.
As we can see above a whole range of different subgenres have emerged out of the classic old school extreme metal genres. In addition to those already mentioned there are important and highly popular subgenres like groove metal, metalcore and folk metal. Also, some bands are only charachterized as extreme metal. They have either changed their style during their careers or is mixing the different styles of extreme music to the point that is difficult to categorize.
On Spotify you'll find our extreme metal medley "Expressions of Extremity" both as one song and as five standalone songs. Check it out below: