Full credit to MetalMonsterDSN on DeviantArt for this header image, which I blatantly stole from Google Image Search.
One of the most baffling things about the fact that we are almost finished with 2017 is that deathcore, previously thought to be completely dead and irrelevant, is suddenly becoming kind of cool to be into again. I would have never thought that Kids These Days would still be getting hyped about the new Thy Art Is Murder record but they put out Dear Desolation earlier this year and not only do people somehow actually give a shit, but they are also somewhat respected by the same metal nerds that refused to accept them just a scant few years ago.
It appears to me, though, that most deathcore bands who still have modern Scene Currency™ (in the “getting reblogged on Tumblr” sense, not the “jocked by losers in Facebook skramz groups” sense) are those bands who have kept the things fans liked about them in the first place while also adding in new, minor tweaks in order to directly appeal to modern audiences. For example, the latest Veil of Maya record, which alternates nose-breakingly heavy pick scrapes and rhythm changes with clean vocals that most closely evoke mid-period Vision of Disorder. See also: the new Emmure album, which combines Frankie Palmieri’s Fred Durst fetish with the mosh chops of his new band members, formerly of Glass Cloud and the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, to create an album that sounds like Disembodied and Mudvayne had a torrid affair and gave birth to this record outside a Nautica outlet.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The most successful modern deathcore is that which takes elements of the past and vomits it out in a way that seems fresh. All this has gotten me thinking– how the fuck did deathcore even come about? It’s kind of an anomaly, in that unlike metalcore and scenecore, it has no clearly visible precursors in or traceable influences from the DIY hardcore scene that came before it. But that doesn’t mean those influences don’t exist; it just means no one has attempted to delineate them before. With that in mind, let’s begin an amazing journey, from the detritus-strewn battlefield of the 90s DIY hardcore scene all the way to the innovation happening within the genre today. Join me, friends, as this post becomes my moshterpiece.
PHASE ONE: THE 90s AND PROTO-DEATHCORE
I find this section to be the most interesting, personally, because most people think of deathcore as an exclusively post-2000 phenomenon. This could not be further from the truth; while the genre wasn’t fully codified until then, there are a ton of bands from the 90s that were combining death metal with hardcore in previously unprecedented ways and laying the groundwork for what we consider to be modern deathcore. Of course, none of these bands were consciously part of a movement within the genre; it was more of a disparate group of acts who were doing whatever unique things they could with what they had, and inadvertently formed the nucleus of today’s deathcore. I’d wager to guess that literally zero percent of today’s deathcore fans or bands are really aware of any of these artists, but they formed the blueprint from which many of them draw.
I know what you’re thinking: “But, Ellie, Assück are clearly a deathgrind band! Are you just going to be talking about bands like Phobia that everyone already knows about?” Well, cool your jets, smartass, there’s a good reason Assück is first on this list. While, yes, they did play deathgrind, which although a big stylistic influence on deathcore, is a fairly well-known one, Assück were unique in that they played a shitload of hardcore and emo fests, and therefore exposed a lot more hardcore kids to death metal much more efficiently than a band like, say, Terrorizer, who were playing to a much more metal and grind-exclusive audience. Sure, there were bands like Excruciating Terror and Iabhorher, who played a lot of LA house parties, and sludge/doom-indebted bands like Dystopia who were related to hardcore via their members being tagger-affiliated, but if you think anyone outside of a couple pockets of the West Coast gave a shit about those groups, you’re sorely misinformed. Assück were vastly more popular than those bands and achieved a wide amount of notoriety within a swathe of diverse scenes. It’s probably safe to say that without Assück bands like Cattle Decapitation wouldn’t exist.
Many people point to Suffocation as the true “inventors” of deathcore, via playing incredibly brutal death metal with occasional grooves that paid homage to NYHC, but in my opinion Suffocation were always a bit too jazz-influenced and Frank’s vocals were too low and “legit metal” to qualify as the progenitors. Instead, I’d like to point to this EP by fellow NYDM pioneers, Pyrexia. While there were other NYDM bands of the same era who had groovy riffs (Internal Bleeding springs to mind), Pyrexia brought the mosh in a much more sophisticated way, combining early 90s death metal-inflected shredding with straight-up breakdowns in a way that had never really been done before. Also, peep those vocals– definitely an influence on hardcore frontmen like Jamey Jasta and Scott Vogel, and the double-tracked wail at 1:48 sounds like it could have come straight off a Suicide Silence song.
As far as powerviolence goes, you don’t get much more brutal and negative than Despise You, except maybe No Comment’s Downsided 7″. In any case, that is a god-tier “BLEH!” at the beginning and then the straight-up death metal riff that follows is absolutely next-level for a hardcore band at the time. This was right before the sea change in powerviolence from SoCal to NorCal– the SoCal dudes were gritty, fucked up meth addicts and losers, and I feel like they owe a lot more debt to metal than the more punky powerviolence that was to come (see late-period Spazz).
In my opinion, bands like Bloodlet and Integrity, despite being referred to as “deathcore” at the time by zines, were less influenced by the musical aspects of death metal than they were by the bleak and oppressive atmosphere of it. This song, for example, is all hardcore groove and aggression with little-to-no death metal influence to be found. These bands were more about coming off as “evil.” However, I guarantee you that bands who came later took massive amounts of influence from these groups and for that they deserve to be given a bit of a shout-out.
Though Starkweather were the first metalcore band to incorporate clean vocals (as early as 1991!), Reno’s Fall Silent did it with more swagger and with more death metal influences. As Sergeant D points out in this article, Fall Silent thank Alex Marquez, of old-school death metal bands such as Resurrection and Malevolent Creation, for inspiration. That is a little unfortunate, since Malevolent Creation’s vocalist is, you know, a virulent racist and homophobe, but before the Internet (and before the 1998 album where Malevolent Creation dropped the n-word), I think this fact was a lot less well-known, and since I live in Nevada and have chatted with the members of Fall Silent and was told point-blank that they were unaware of that fact at the time, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, if you aren’t listening to this band, you’re truly fucking up.
Morning Again were dancey as all get-out, and there are several moments on this record in particular where they break from straightforward hardcore and delve into deathrash guitar work, most notably the groove at 0:36 here. For 1996, this is absurdly advanced.
I can’t find the exact Abnegation recordings I’m looking for on YouTube (specifically their 1996 split with Chapter), but this song works fine as well. This is basically primordial deathcore– the pick squeals, the insanely brutal breakdowns, the Morbid Angel-esque guitar work at around 1:30— and if it weren’t for the hissy, awful recording quality and more traditionally “hardcore” vocals, I could see this being on a split with, say, Glass Casket circa 2003.
Although musically this hews closer to the melodeathcore that was soon to be absolutely dominating the New England scene a la Darkest Hour and Shadows Fall– in other words, the face of straightforward metalcore throughout the early-mid 2000s– Catharsis were probably the first hardcore band to blatantly rip off At the Gates, and for that they deserve recognition in the pantheon of “deathcore pioneers.” Bands like Walls of Jericho, Undying and the pre-Between the Buried and Me band Prayer for Cleansing are pretty much ripping off this record wholesale, and I cannot think of a more succinct way of explaining deathcore than “hardcore kids ripping off death metal.”
That same year, Day of Suffering beat Catharsis at their own game by being perhaps the first ever hardcore band to copy brutal death metal. I mean, fuck, they’re named after a Morbid Angel song, and that bit at 1:40 sounds like it could have come straight out of a fucking Cannibal Corpse song. Apparently after this album they started to go into a more black metal-influenced direction, which, had they released an album of that material, would have been so far ahead of its time that it would have caused DIY hardcore to collapse in on itself. There had been other hardcore bands that had raised the bar for heaviness to an absurd degree, like Racetraitor and Killtheslavemaster, but literally none could match the pure fury that Day of Suffering were spitting here.
While we’re on the subject of hardcore bands copying black metal, any post on bands that pioneered deathcore would be completely pointless if it didn’t bring up the first two Underoath albums, which are absolute masterpieces of blackened deathcore while the members of Abigail Williams were still in diapers. It even features a hardcore band attempting to go full metal with the vocals, and while it’s a little dated and laughable now, I’m sure it sounded fucking insane the first time people heard this album. I think the only other hardcore band to so successfully rip off Dissection was Eighteen Visions on “Prelude to an Epic.”
Christian bands were really fucking ahead of the curve, weren’t they? This album came out in 1998 and is, as far as I can tell, the earliest example of contemporary deathcore. I would be absolutely shocked if the members of Suicide Silence or Whitechapel heard that bit at 1:30 and didn’t hang their heads in shame when they realized they were essentially stealing all of their ideas from this band.
Of course, many of the heaviest bands of the late 90s were to be found in the Showcase and Chain Reaction scene. Eighteen Visions’ Yesterday Is Time Killed and Until the Ink Runs Out LPs are unprecedentedly heavy, and no other band besides perhaps Bleeding Through and Atreyu were as much of an influence on deathcore’s later fashion sense. I and many others have talked to death about how very influential this band was, so I won’t say too much, but if you deny that they were on some next-level shit, you’re fucking deluded.
Adamantium were also absurdly ahead of their time, perhaps second only to Eighteen Visions. While their compatriots in Throwdown were basically investing in payoff riff after payoff riff without paying much care to strong songwriting until much later in their run, Adamantium strung together songs with impeccable structure and hooks without sacrificing any of their brutality. I’ve spoken a lot about deathcore poster boys Suicide Silence in this article already, but Mitch Lucker specifically cited Adamantium as an early influence on them, and if you compare that part at 2:00 here to, say, “No Pity for a Coward,” it’s pretty clear and undeniable.
As opposed to the vast majority of these bands, Disembodied are fairly well-remembered nowadays due to bands like Code Orange and Knocked Loose essentially ripping them off wholesale. This is very odd because anyone who went to shows back then can confirm that there were at most 15-25 people in attendance for Disembodied. I am positive that those people can also confirm how much Disembodied fucking ripped. 2:07 features potentially the earliest example of the tremolo-picked breakdown, and it still brings the fucking house down to this day. No 90s band was as heavy as Disembodied, period, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool. Disembodied are also, I believe, the only band on this list that had a woman in it, which is unfortunate. Commenters, help me out! Are there any other absurdly heavy, pioneering deathcore bands with women in them?
Though I was debating even including Human Remains on this list because of how unapologetically death metal they were, I think they were one of the most creative metal bands of the 90s. They played an absolutely demented mixture of death metal and hardcore that, in the long run, I think was more of an influence on mathcore than anything else (listen to that bit at 1:15 and tell me that the Dillinger Escape Plan would have existed without it– this was all the way back in 1995, which is unbelievable), which I think can largely be attributed to the maniacal genius of Dave Witte on drums, also of Discordance Axis and Burnt by the Sun, among many others. In the end I decided they were worth including on here because of the large DNA crossover of early 2000s deathcore and early 2000s mathcore (see: Ion Dissonance and the Red Chord).
I suppose if I bring up Human Remains it’s worth giving a shout-out to the pre-Dillinger Escape Plan band Canephora, too, who were more rooted in hardcore but also took an impressive amount of influence from technical death metal.
I wanted to finish off this part of early deathcore history by shouting out early Hatebreed. It’s no secret that many of their most brutal moments are basically copycatted directly from the Obituary playbook– Jamey Jasta has said as much– and I think because of their immense popularity, many of those early-mid 2000s deathcore kids were first exposed to heavily death metal-indebted hardcore by the first few Hatebreed records. Obviously Hatebreed themselves are more of a moshcore band than anything else, but there’s enough death metal in their blood that I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to slot them here.
PHASE TWO: DEATHCORE PROPER
As I brought up earlier, there was a good amount of crossover between what we now recognize as early deathcore and the early 2000s mathcore scene. Ion Dissonance, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, and the Red Chord in particular are bands that I could comfortably place in either of those categories without much fuss. If I had to wager a guess, I would say that this is because of the immense influence grind had on both of these genres. Of course, it’s easy in retrospect to see how Daughters and Despised Icon were going in completely different directions, but it’s also easy to see how much crossover appeal those bands had with each other. If there’s one major difference that leaps out at me, it’s that the mathcore bands were much more heavily devoted to DIY hardcore (probably due to their vestigial sass influence), and the bands that became known as deathcore originators were much more comfortable playing to macho metal audiences (side note, how fucking hilarious is it that the vocalist of the Red Chord is a cop?).
At this point, just about everyone is familiar with the Holy Trinity of early deathcore– Despised Icon, the Red Chord, and Ion Dissonance– but it seems that it’s only now people are starting to give a shit about Glass Casket. This sounds completely at home with moshcore bands like On Broken Wings, but definitely has a technical, death-influenced edge that puts them squarely into deathcore territory. The members of Glass Casket have a very interesting pedigree, however, going on to bands like the Faceless and Between the Buried and Me, both of which are emblematic of the cultural shift that deathcore was soon to go through, as it became more and more acceptable for “real” metal fans to listen to those technically demanding bands now that they weren’t playing “bullshit for hardcore kids to ninja-dance to.”
Speaking of Between the Buried and Me, I think it’s criminal that they are overlooked as the early deathcore veterans they are. While both they and the Black Dahlia Murder have now transcended the -core label and are fully integrated into the “trve” metal scene, 0:50 in this song is a prime example of early deathcore, as my good friend Loren pointed out to me recently. Absurdly brutal breakdowns as well as a laughable attempt at low death metal vocals– NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL EARLY DEATHCORE!
Good fucking god this is a heavy-ass album for 2002. A Life Once Lost and It Dies Today were the first bands that were doing the whole “songs that are insanely heavy breakdowns from beginning to end” thing, and they deserve credit for that, but the Acacia Strain came out with this record and unequivocally blew them the fuck away by finding the unspeakably heavy “brown note” that all deathcore from then on was rooted in. Major props to the Acacia Strain for continuing to be relevant in three full generations of deathcore (via 2010’s Wormwood, which was probably the heaviest record ever made at that point, and their most recent output, which is still fucking stellar). They also get points for coming up in the DIY hardcore scene as well as still considering themselves a hardcore band, while their deathcore brethren have mostly kept to considering themselves “metal bands.”
The Acacia Strain found the brown note, but Emmure arguably perfected it, and fused the bro-y, beatdown sound of Throwdown and Hatebreed with the aforementioned brown note as well as nu metal to create the insanely advanced 2004 demo linked above. I might be the only person I know who is an unapologetic fan of most of Emmure’s work (outside of their lyrics), and shit like this is why– people used to shit on Disembodied for kind of sounding like Korn, and then ten years later here comes Emmure playing heavy-ass hardcore that owes as much to Limp Bizkit as it does to Adamantium, and it is resolutely S-rank shit.
Job for a Cowboy are arguably the reason that metal nerds hated deathcore so much to begin with. This EP came out in 2005 and its mixture of brutal death, breakdowns, and hooky songwriting somehow coalesced into a perfect storm that resulted in deathcore becoming the sound du jour for MySpace kids. It doesn’t hurt that Job for a Cowboy also represents the complete abandonment of DIY hardcore by deathcore bands. In many ways, Doom is the apex of all of deathcore’s disparate cultural influences– sassy scene aesthetic, br00tal breakdowns, deathgrind, emerging Internet culture– and at the time, it all worked perfectly. I guarantee every deathcore kid loved the video for “Entombment of a Machine,” and it’s one of the earliest examples of a heavy music meme on the Internet (along with Waking the Cadaver’s legendary “I like shredded wheat”). Job for a Cowboy also came from the fucking desolate Southwest, which in the ensuing years became the hub for generic deathcore. For one more thing that made Job for a Cowboy such an essential influence on modern deathcore, by 2007 they completely abandoned the genre and went “full death metal” in order to appeal to metal nerds, and it fucking worked (much to the detriment of their overall popularity, though). If you want to know why deathcore is actually considered a viable genre to metal nerds today, Job for a Cowboy is why.
So here is Bring Me the Horizon’s one true deathcore album, before they fully embraced their melodic metalcore influences in Skycamefalling and Poison the Well for Suicide Season, and before they became a solid Linkin Park cover band. I have to admit that despite enjoying almost all of Bring Me the Horizon’s work, I’m not too stoked on this album, outside of a few bangers like, obviously, “Pray for Plagues.” However, one can’t deny that Oli Sykes was, for his time, the prettiest scene boy on the planet, and pretty much cemented deathcore’s transition from a niche thing that also appealed to the weirdos who were into white belt scene grind (Arsonists Get All the Girls, See You Next Tuesday, iwrestledabearonce) into a household phenomenon.
This record is so fucking pissed off. If Bring Me the Horizon made deathcore a household thing, Suicide Silence created a generation of kids who craved brutality more than anything else. I can’t think of a deathcore band in 2007 who were more brutal than them. Phil Bozeman’s vocals came close with Whitechapel’s Somatic Defilement, another essential deathcore record of the era, but they truly were just chasing Suicide Silence’s coattails. I suppose I should throw in a shoutout for Heaven Shall Burn and maybe early All Shall Perish, too, but they were already turning into a hard rock outfit (lol). The musicianship is just polished enough to be accessible while still raw enough to maintain a furious edge, and those vocals– fuck. The perfect example of a hardcore kid trying way too hard to sound like Corpsegrinder, but against all odds, they work. Bonus points for every girl you knew in high school who had that “Pull the Trigger, Bitch” hoodie.
Of course, it’s now been ten years since The Cleansing, and it’s not like deathcore as a genre had completely stopped innovating, but it’s at this point that the connections between it and the DIY hardcore that it was originally drawing from become less and less meaningful. Post-Suicide Silence, deathcore was as popular a movement in heavy music as they come, with bands like Carnifex, Chelsea Grin, and Abigail Williams even throwing in some black metal influence and still managing to appeal to a widespread audience. At this point, deathcore and DIY hardcore are completely separate and have absolutely zero crossover, and metal nerds also fucking loathe it with a passion. Because deathcore is neither “here nor there,” as it were, it appealed to a lot of kids who also felt completely out of place in their world, and I think that’s what makes this era so interesting to me. In the same way as nu metal, equally lambasted by metal nerds during its peak in popularity, appealed to the weirdo kids who didn’t really have another genre to cling onto and didn’t have anywhere else to fit in.
I suppose that is why DIY hardcore bands who took legitimate influence from death metal, such as Harms Way, Xibalba, Disgrace, and Harness, were never really considered deathcore bands, despite ostensibly fitting into that category (via being hardcore kids who were copycatting death metal). Deathcore became an entire aesthetic unto itself that was completely divorced from the DIY hardcore scene.
Like I brought up earlier, however, deathcore slowly became more and more accepted by elitist metal fans due to bands such as the Faceless, the Contortionist, the Agony Scene, and Between the Buried and Me becoming more and more technical as well as the fact that with age, metal fans will eventually embrace any good band no matter how much they were regarded as “poser bullshit” in their day. You can see this cycle repeating itself in many ways with djent. Where bands like Born of Osiris, After the Burial, and Periphery were once derided as Sumeriancore, their legitimately excellent musicianship as well as their enviable longevity have resulted in them being accepted into the metal canon. Some bands, like Volumes, aren’t there yet, and I think that sludgewave artists like Black Tongue, Yüth Forever, and Sworn In may never be, due to their heavy influence from mallcore, but nevertheless it’s an observation I’ve made and I believe I’ve pinpointed acceptance from the metal community at large as the point at which deathcore is no longer connected to the hardcore scene.
Which brings us to bands like Veil of Maya, whose new album was the impetus for me finally writing this article after teasing it for months. Twenty years ago, Eighteen Visions and Vision of Disorder alienated stalwart hardcore fans by bringing in clean singing and rock-oriented song structure, but now that Veil of Maya is doing the exact same thing, their long-standing reputation in the scene has lent them enough credibility to do so without being rejected wholesale from the deathcore scene. This is kind of adjacent to metalcore bands like Of Mice and Men and Bring Me the Horizon delving completely into hard rock territory, but I find that Veil of Maya don’t seem to be sacrificing their heaviness for more widespread appeal, like the aforementioned bands (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Overall, I’ve found that death metal-influenced hardcore is still very much a thing (that new Left Behind record is maybe the heaviest thing I’ve heard in years), but it doesn’t call itself deathcore. Deathcore no longer even really calls itself deathcore, the bands usually just referring to themselves as metal, including genre stalwarts like Thy Art Is Murder and (ugh) Infant Annihilator. So perhaps, despite the continuing popularity of many ostensibly deathcore acts, the genre really is completely irrelevant nowadays. Nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to see how a genre grew and developed from its roots. Gone are the days when Rose FUNOral, ABACABB, Jerome, early Liferuiner, and other supremely ignorant bands brought the mosh, but also, when looking at the incredibly misogynistic and homophobic lyrics and attitudes of those bands, perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe the end of deathcore is a result of the fans slowly growing more socially conscious. Or maybe it’s a result of the metal scene itself slowly growing more inclusive. I prefer to think that it’s because deathcore was truly just a moment in time, and it’s passed, like 77 punk or the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. Although there are still artists that take influence from those eras, the specific confluence of cultural factors will probably never happen again.
Anyway, that’s probably enough pretentious analysis of a dumbass scene phenomenon for one night. I think it might finally be time for me to let it die. In the immortal words of Mitch Lucker, “Pull the trigger, bitch.”
A few people have told me that I missed a couple seminal bands, including my pal Jesse from Letters to Catalonia, who informed me that Through the Eyes of the Dead should have been mentioned, and that is fair– Through the Eyes of the Dead were around in the scene fairly early on and have had their share of influence.
If we’re going to bring up Through the Eyes of the Dead, we may as well also discuss the band that they came from, Deadwater Drowning, who are a lot more influential than they ever really get credit for, via members going on to join bands such as Through the Eyes, the Acacia Strain, Burnt by the Sun, Fit for an Autopsy, Shai Hulud (!), the Final Battle, and the Red Chord. As far as I can tell, outside of their demo, this EP is the only thing Deadwater Drowning ever released, and it’s absolutely fucking sick and should be looked at as a seminal stepping stone in the development of deathcore as a genre.
The first Elysia album is probably the closest thing you’ll be able to find to the pure, platonic form of MySpace deathcore. Contemporaries of Impending Doom and Killwhitneydead, among others, Elysia were the definition of scene kids playing the definition of generic deathcore, and it was fantastic. There’s some really aggressive, disjointed lyricism and song structure here that foreshadowed their follow-up, Lion of Judas, which was recorded by Kurt Ballou (!!), and which they were set to tour with Shai Hulud (!!! again!) in support of before they had to call it quits due to medical issues. They’re mostly forgotten now, which is a shame, because they were definitely leagues above their C-level peers like Salt the Wound, The Irish Front, Knights of the Abyss, and so on, but having to quit that Shai Hulud tour really cut their popularity off at the knees. Apparently they got back together a few years ago, but they immediately broke up again.
Animosity were often confused for a straight-up death metal act, which makes sense, considering that they were one of the few deathcore bands who actually knew how to write a fucking guitar solo, but one look at this music video makes it incredibly clear that Animosity were a deathcore band above all else. However, when they released their first LP in 2003, they were probably one of the only bands on the West Coast who were playing this brand of music, and it always felt a lot more slick and polished, songwriting-wise, than many of their Midwest and East Coast contemporaries. Somewhat predictably, given the fact that they could play their fucking asses off and always trended in a more “trve” direction, they were one of the first deathcore bands to be embraced by the more traditional metal community.
Although it’s not entirely appropriate to label Dead to Fall a deathcore band (they were more of a melodeath-influenced band, although they were certainly talented at writing murderous fucking breakdowns), I wanted to throw in a shout-out to this song in particular, because it came out in 2008 and the (fucking hilarious) lyrics really feel like ultimate kiss-off to the MySpace deathcore sound. So let’s end this song, and this article, with a fucking breakdown.
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