Shadow of the Horns: The Joy of Death Metal

Jeff Terich
Horrendous the joy of death metal

Well, it looks like the party’s over. Secret’s out. We can no longer carry on the facade of being a group of hyper-aggressive, angry outcasts. It was fun while it lasted, freaking out the squares, upsetting conservative mores and generally making the normals feel uncomfortable. But now everyone knows our secret: We listen to metal because it makes us happy.

Last week, Macquarie University’s music lab in Australia revealed the results of a study in which 80 people were shown different types of images—some violent and non-violent—while listening to death metal. While 32 of those people were death metal fans, the other 48 were not, but the results ended up being the same: Death metal fans were revealed to be no more desensitized to violence than non-fans. Furthermore, Professor Bill Thompson from Macquarie University concluded that death metal fans are “nice people,” and that “the dominant emotional response to this music is joy and empowerment.”

To which most of you will inevitably say: Of course! To metal listeners, the results of this study should be pretty obvious, because we know who we are. But there is, naturally, a certain stigma attached to extreme metal due to the fact that it is sometimes cartoonishly violent—put on any random Cannibal Corpse album and it’ll put Eli Roth to shame. But it’s also important to consider Occam’s Razor. Why is it that people do most things? When it comes to the kinds of entertainment we consume, there’s a pretty simple reason for it: Because we enjoy it.

I don’t say this to give Macquarie a hard time by any means. Frankly I enjoyed saying “damn straight!” to myself after the results were confirmed—we’re delightful! Though I am curious about whether or not there will be further studies along these lines, like whether or not noise fans are more prone to staph infections or if hardcore vocalists have been betrayed more frequently than the average person. This one, though, just seems like kind of a gimme. Death metal is often compared to horror movies and certainly borrows many of its tropes. And neither is particularly well respected in the mainstream—The Silence of the Lambs is, to this date, the only horror film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not that I would even expect the Grammys to acknowledge a band like, say, Opeth (who are pretty much just a prog rock band now, but hear me out) be worthy of Album of the Year. But both horror and death metal have legions of passionate fans, in part because it’s something that a lot of people simply don’t get. Death metal is a refuge from the drudgery of everyday life, a form of escapism and catharsis that will make you feel awesome when you’re in need of a release. And I may have a totally different sense of taste as people who like to do crowd participation in Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings or live tweet reality TV shows. But I understand why they do it: It’s fun! (For them, hard pass for me.)

It’s also just a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. I spent a good chunk of the last six months listening to albums like Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms and Horrendous’ Idol, and I can confirm that both have brought me a lot of joy and empowerment. And I can say the same for any number of albums by Carcass, Entombed, Death, Autopsy, At the Gates, Atheist, Gorguts, Bolt Thrower, and so on, and so forth. (And while we’re on the subject, Gorguts has been nominated for a Juno award, which automatically makes it cooler than the Grammys—even if Deafheaven were up for an award this year.)

So yeah, it would appear our dirty little secret is out. We’re nice people who like challenging music because it makes us feel good. Go figure.

The best metal tracks of March 2019

Haunt – “Defender”

Fresno-based old-school heavy metal troupe Haunt are too generous. Last year they gave us the outstanding, highly underrated new album Burst Into Flames. In January, they followed that up with an EP to hold us over for, well, just a few weeks, as they’ve already unveiled and released their next album, If Icarus Could Fly. Officially, the physical release of the album was announced to be May, but the band didn’t seem interested in sitting on it that long, so it’s already up on Bandcamp, with physical copies shipping soon, and by god it’s a beauty. “Defender” is a four-minute slice of the California band’s trad-metal chops, heavy on heroic vocals, dual harmonized leads, some good old-fashioned power-chord crunch and a sense that, listening to this, you could conquer nations, take down the heavyweight champ, drive faster than 55, or slay a dragon—or better yet, ride it to victory! This is metal that, much like the essay you just read explained, evokes a great deal of joy and triumph. It’s so much fun to listen to that for the most part I’m not even bothering with the intricacies of critical examination (though I’m planning on reviewing the album soon). Just turn it up and have fun.

From If Icarus Could Fly, out now; Shadow Kingdom


0N0 – “Hidden in the Trees”

It’s a little confusing. There’s a Chicago post-punk band called Ono, a Danish indie rock band called Oh No Ono, and of course Yoko Ono. Slovakia’s 0N0 are another thing entirely, but an easy way to remember the difference is that the N is between two zeroes. (Or maybe that’s not easier, I’m not one for mnemonic devices.) They’ve been around for quite a few years, though tend to release music sporadically—their latest, Cloaked Climax Concealed, is their first in three years, following the 2016 full-length Reconstruction and Synthesis. But “Hidden in the Trees” is an incredibly strong return. A massive and dense blend of Godflesh-style industrial metal, shoegaze and death-doom, 0N0 have certainly found a formula that’s essentially foolproof for sounding huge. And humongous it is, big on crunchy riffs, dreamy passages of effects-laden hallucinations and torso-rattling drum machines.

From Cloaked Climax Concealed, out now; Transcending Obscurity


Cosmic Putrefaction – “The Ancient Demagogue”

Cosmic Putrefaction’s new track premiered on Invisible Oranges—a site with whom Treble shares at least one writer and in general an excellent source of metal coverage from some cool people. And the teaser copy on the front page pretty much sums it up: “Holy shit.” Yeah, I’ll say! It’s no secret that death metal of late has been on fire: Horrendous, Necrot, Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, the list just keeps going and going. Add Cosmic Putrefaction to the list while you’re at it, which is the project of Italian musician G.G. (Gabriele Gramaglia), also of The Clearing Path and Summit. “The Ancient Demagogue” is a hell of a warning shot, a brief but powerful explosion of murky, menacing and, aw shit I’ll just go ahead and say it, joyful(!) death metal that roars and rips with reckless abandon. And what’s remarkable about it is how three minutes is more than enough time to leave an impact this devastating. Many of G.G.’s peers across the Atlantic here in the U.S. have taken the more progressive route regarding their songwriting approach, but this is pure, filthy and straight to the point. The album itself is just under a half-hour as well, so it’s not like Cosmic Putrefaction is wasting any time here. Get in, fuck shit up, get out. It’d be punk rock if it wasn’t the very ideal of great death metal.

Listen here

From At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm, out April 19; I, Voidhanger


Idle Hands – “Give Me To the Night”

I’ve been writing this blog for close to four years now (that sounds like a lot longer than it felt), and in that time I’ve championed black metal, funeral doom, stoner rock, extremely heavy noise rock, trad-metal, stuff that’s metal adjacent but close enough—you name it. But I’ll never not be a sucker for the combination of goth-rock and heavy metal. In Solitude, Devil Master, Tribulation and, belatedly, Beastmilk and Rope Sect have all proven that a post-punk background pretty much only improves upon an already good thing. (Don’t fight me on this, I will absolutely not back down.) Idle Hands are the latest band to prove this axiom with “Give Me To the Night,” the first single from new album Mana. This song fucking goes. There’s a driving, heavy and pulsing sound to it that’s true to their classic metal bona fides, evoking Iron Maiden or Judas Priest at their most furious ’80s peaks. But there’s a dark atmospheric wash to the track that reveals some time perhaps spent at the campy but awesome Lovecraft Bar in Portland (where they’re from and a drinking spot where you should definitely visit if you feel like going to a goth night in the Northwest). It’s really no secret why this works so well—metal and goth are really just divergent sects from a similar family of theatrical arts, and the similarities outnumber the differences (though the mighty death metal “OUGH!” is one of the more noticeable ones). And based on “Give Me To the Night,” Idle Hands have the chops to live up to the Tribulations and In Solitudes.

From Mana, out May 10; Eisenwald


Baroness – “Borderlines”

Let’s just restate our little agreement. Every time a new Baroness album is announced, one of its singles is going to show up in this spot. That’s pretty much just a given at this point. They’re one of the best bands in heavy music right now, even though their definition of metal continues to change—though it’s guaranteed to have righteous riffs, that much I can guarantee. “Borderlines” is a case in point. It’s far from the most metal Baroness has ever sounded, but it still sounds like Baroness, and that’s a very good thing, of course. New guitarist Gina Gleason comfortably eases into her role, which had previously been vacated by Pete Adams—and onstage, she has a similar energy as Pete, as they both have an infectious magnetism about them. It’s hard not to feel good watching musicians who seem that stoked to be doing what they do. But “Borderlines” also offers an opportunity for drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost to showcase their talents as well, with some deep grooves sneaking in once the riffs let up. It’s a very strong first taste of their fifth album Gold & Grey, and a good snapshot of where they are right now. In the press release for the album, the band said that Gold & Grey is their most “extreme” album yet. I don’t want to give too much away this early in the game, but it’s not like they’ve turned into Pig Destroyer. But the longer Baroness is a band, the less likely it is that they’ll be contained by easy definitions.

From Gold & Grey, out June 11; Abraxan Hymns

Piece by piece

The best metal albums of the past month:

Devil Master‘s Satan Spits on Children of Light: A mega-fun hybrid of hardcore punk, death rock and thrash metal/trad-metal that scratches all of the Mercyful Fate itches and then some. Essentially it’s party metal in goth clothing, and that’s exactly the kind of metal album I could listen to 1,000 times. Also, read my interview with the band while you’re at it. (Relapse)

Kaleikr‘s Heart of Lead: One of the strongest metal debuts of the still-young year, this LP from a band of Icelandic scene veterans balances out sludge, psychedelia, progressive rock and various other elements into one very cool, innovative and endlessly listenable set of metal anthems. A fun discovery and definitely a band to keep your eyes and ears on. (Debemur Morti)

Primitive Man/HELL‘s Split EP: Two of Colorado’s heaviest bands go head-to-head on this split EP, and it’s a beast. Oh, and while we’re talking interviews, go ahead and read Michael Pementel’s chat with HELL’s M.S.W. (Translation Loss)

View Comments (2)
  • Baroness?? NOT DEATH METAL. There are so many amazing metal bands in San Diego why not write something about them and support the community instead of pandering to these established out of town acts not to mention their lack of relation to the genre you’re claiming to write about..

    • Two quick things:

      1. Treble does not specifically cover San Diego music. It covers music from everywhere.

      2. Nobody ever said Baroness was death metal.

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