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Death Metal: A Decades-Long Odyssey through Sonic Brutality

In the vast realm of heavy metal, a subgenre has emerged with a ferocity and intensity unmatched by its peers – Death Metal. Originating from the underground scene in the early 1980s, Death Metal music has grown into a global phenomenon with a diverse range of subgenres, each carving its own sonic niche. This article delves into the roots, growth, and cultural impact of the genre, exploring its various subgenres and the passionate community that has embraced its brutal allure.

Origins: A Brutal Birth in the Underground

The genesis of this aggressive new type of heavy metal can be traced back to the early 1980s, primarily in the United States and Europe. Artists like POSSESSED, DEATH and MORBID ANGEL played pioneering roles in forging the raw, aggressive sound that would come to define the genre. Chuck Schuldiner, often hailed as the “Godfather” of the genre, shaped its early sound with DEATH‘s 1987 debut album, “Scream Bloody Gore.” POSSESSED‘s “Seven Churches” (1985) is another cornerstone, featuring blast beats, guttural vocals, and dark lyrical themes that would become signatures of the then burgeoning sound.

Growth and Evolution: The 1990s Explosion

The 1990s witnessed a surge in the extreme music’s popularity, with bands refining and expanding it’s sonic boundaries. Florida’s DEATH and MORBID ANGEL continued to push the sound forward with releases like “Human” (1991) and “Covenant” (1993). Swedish bands, including ENTOMBED, DISMEMBER and AT THE GATES, introduced a distinct “Swedish” style characterized by the use of buzzsaw guitar tones and melody.

Subgenres Unleashed: A Sonic Tapestry of Brutality

Technical: Emerging in the late 1980s, “technical” takes the genre’s complexity to new heights. Technical Death Metal Bands like ATHIEST, CYNIC, and NECROPHAGIST weave intricate musical passages, odd time signatures, and progressive elements into the brutal framework of the genre.

Grindcore: Though a distinct genre, grindcore shares it’s roots with it’s brutal metal counterparts and often coexists within the extreme metal spectrum. Pioneered by bands like NAPALM DEATH and CARCASS, grindcore incorporates elements of punk, featuring short, intense songs, blast beats, and guttural vocals.

Deathcore: In the 2000s, deathcore emerged, blending extreme metal’s brutality with elements of metalcore. Bands like WHITECHAPEL, SUICIDE SILENCE and CARNIFEX introduced breakdowns and core-influenced structures while maintaining Death’s ferocity.

Melodic: With roots in the Gothenburg scene, “melodic”, or “melodeath,” adds a harmonious dimension to the genre. Death Metal artists such as IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILITY and AT THE GATES pioneered this style, combining aggressive riffing with memorable melodies.

Progressive: As the genre evolved, a wave of bands sought to push its boundaries further. OPETH, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME and EDGE OF SANITY infused progressive elements, intricate compositions, and diverse instrumentation into the genre.

Blackened: Merging the intensity of black metal with the brutality of death, blackened emerged as a darker, more atmospheric subgenre. Bands like BEHEMOTH and BELPHEGOR incorporate blast beats, tremolo picking, and occult themes.

Cultural Impact: A Sonic Rebellion

Extreme Metal’s impact extends beyond its sonic landscapes, influencing art, fashion, and fostering a unique subculture. Album cover art often features grotesque, surreal, or occult imagery, and the genre’s iconography is deeply embedded in metal culture. Metal festivals, including Maryland Deathfest and Obscene Extreme, celebrate the diversity of the genre, attracting devoted fans from around the globe.

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The Listener: A Diverse Tapestry

Contrary to misconceptions, extreme metal fans represent a diverse group. From students of music theory dissecting technical nuances to those seeking an adrenaline rush through sonic extremity, This type of metal’s appeal spans age, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds. The community is united by a shared passion for the genre’s uncompromising intensity and the creative diversity it offers.

A Sonic Legacy

Extreme metal’s journey from the underground to a global force has been a testament to its resilience and ability to evolve. The genre’s impact is not only heard in the roaring riffs and guttural vocals but also felt in the countless bands and subgenres it has spawned. As the genre continues to mutate and inspire new generations, its legacy remains an indelible mark on the vast tapestry of heavy metal.

Death Metal: 13 Of The Genre’s Defining Bands

We here at Loaded Radio have been tabulating your votes for who you, the metal fan, think are the top band(s) of this extreme genre.

We have done all the tabulation through on-site voting, incoming emails and on-air requests, so we would like to personally thank every one of you who took the time to vote.

You can find the results below.

Number 13 – DYING FETUS

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Formed in 1991 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, DYING FETUS emerged as a formidable force in the death metal scene.

Founded by guitarist/vocalist John Gallagher, guitarist Nick Speleos, and drummer Jason Netherton, DYING FETUS initially aimed to create music that defied the conventions of traditional, yet brutal metal. The band’s early lineup shifts gave way to a more stable formation, solidifying their aggressive and technically proficient sound. With an unabashedly brutal approach and a penchant for socially aware lyrics, DYING FETUS quickly gained a reputation as one of the most ferocious and politically charged acts in the genre.

DYING FETUS‘ discography is a testament to their unyielding commitment to extreme music. Albums like “Purification Through Violence” (1996), “Destroy the Opposition” (2000), and “War of Attrition” (2007) showcase their evolution from a raw, underground act to a technical extreme metal powerhouse.

The band’s impact on the genre lies in their ability to seamlessly blend brutal metal with elements of grindcore and technical proficiency. DYING FETUS has influenced a generation of metal bands, shaping the landscape with their relentless aggression, intricate song structures, and socially conscious themes. Their enduring presence has solidified them as stalwarts of the extreme metal scene.

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Number 12 – AUTOPSY

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Hailing from the morbid depths of Contra Costa County, California, AUTOPSY emerged in 1987 as a seminal force in the extreme metal genre.

Formed by Chris Reifert (vocals/drums) and Eric Cutler (guitar), AUTOPSY set out to explore a more extreme and gruesome sonic territory. Their debut album, “Severed Survival” (1989), instantly solidified their place as masters of brutality, delivering a visceral and grotesque blend of extreme metal that would leave an indelible mark on the genre.

AUTOPSY‘s impact on metal is not only evident in their pioneering sound but also in their commitment to the underground ethos. The band’s influential EPs like “Retribution for the Dead” (1991) and “Fiend for Blood” (1991) further showcased their ability to conjure an atmosphere of darkness and decay.

Albums like “Mental Funeral” (1991) and “Acts of the Unspeakable” (1992) solidified their status as innovators in the extreme metal scene. AUTOPSY‘s raw and unfiltered approach, coupled with their fascination for horror and the macabre, has left an enduring imprint on the genre, inspiring subsequent generations of brutal metal bands to explore the darkest realms of musical extremity.

If you have yet to experience this outfit’s sheer brutality, we would strongly recommend starting out with their 1991 album “Mental Funeral“.

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Number 11 – NILE

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Formed in 1993 in Greenville, South Carolina, NILE quickly rose to prominence as a formidable force in the extreme metal scene.

Karl Sanders (guitar/vocals), Chief Spires (bass/vocals), and Pete Hammoura (drums) united with the goal of infusing their sound with the mysticism of ancient Egyptian themes. The band’s name, a nod to the longest river in Africa, perfectly encapsulates their fascination with Egyptian culture.

With a commitment to technical precision and a relentless sonic assault, NILE‘s debut album, “Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka” (1998), marked the beginning of their exploration into the symbiotic relationship between extreme metal and ancient Egyptian mythology.

NILE‘s discography showcases a continuous evolution of their technical prowess and lyrical depth. Albums like “Black Seeds of Vengeance” (2000) and “In Their Darkened Shrines” (2002) solidified their reputation as leaders in technical extreme metal, with complex compositions that mirror the intricacies of ancient hieroglyphs.

The band’s relentless speed, intricate guitar work, and utilization of exotic Middle Eastern scales have set them apart, influencing a new wave of technical brutal metal bands. NILE‘s dedication to creating a sonic journey through the annals of ancient history has left an indelible mark on the metal genre, earning them acclaim for their technical mastery and thematic depth.

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Number 10 – NAPALM DEATH

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Hailing from Meriden, West Midlands, England, NAPALM DEATH was formed in 1981 by drummer Miles Ratledge, and bassist/vocalist Nik Bullen. Since 1986, none of the original members have remained in the band; however, a stable lineup emerged post-“Utopia Banished” (1992). The enduring quartet features bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harris, drummer Danny Herrera, and lead vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway.

NAPALM DEATH operated as a five-piece ensemble from 1989 to 2004, incorporating Jesse Pintado as the replacement for guitarist Bill Steer during that period. After Pintado‘s departure, the band transitioned back to a four-piece configuration, maintaining stability in their lineup for a significant portion of their career.

NAPALM DEATH‘s inception marked the birth of grindcore, a subgenre that fuses elements of punk and extreme metal into a high-speed, abrasive sonic onslaught. The band’s debut album, “Scum” (1987), remains a landmark in extreme music, pioneering the grindcore genre and influencing countless bands with its relentless intensity and socio-political lyrics.

The band’s impact on the extreme metal genre is immeasurable, particularly through their dedication to pushing musical boundaries and lyrical themes. Albums like “From Enslavement to Obliteration” (1988) and “Harmony Corruption” (1990) further solidified their status as grindcore innovators.

With their subsequent albums, including “Utopia Banished” (1992) and “Fear, Emptiness, Despair” (1994), NAPALM DEATH expanded their sonic palette while retaining their ferocious intensity. The band’s influence extends beyond music, as their commitment to social and political activism has cemented their legacy as pioneers not only in grindcore but in the broader spectrum of extreme music.

If you’re looking for a metal band that will test your limits, look no further than NAPALM DEATH. A great place to start would be at the beginning, with the “Scum” album.

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Number 9 – DEICIDE

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Originating from the sweltering depths of Tampa, Florida, DEICIDE stands as an iconic force in the world of extreme metal.

Formed in 1987 by the Hoffman brothers, guitarists Brian and Eric, along with drummer Steve Asheim, and bassist/vocalist Glen Benton, DEICIDE quickly gained notoriety for their relentless and blasphemous approach to the genre. The band’s moniker itself is a testament to their rebellious spirit, derived from the Latin word “deicida,” meaning “killer of God.” This choice reflects their lyrical themes, often exploring anti-religious and Satanic motifs, making them both revered and controversial figures in the extreme metal scene.

DEICIDE‘s discography reads like a brutal chronicle of extreme metal’s evolution. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1990, sent shockwaves through the metal community with its unrelenting aggression and Benton’s guttural growls.

Subsequent albums like “Legion” (1992) and “Once Upon the Cross” (1995) solidified their standing as pioneers of the genre, showcasing technical prowess and unbridled ferocity. Their impact on metal cannot be overstated; DEICIDE played a crucial role in defining the genre’s sound, influencing countless bands with their uncompromising approach to extreme music. Through lineup changes and controversies, DEICIDE‘s legacy endures as a symbol of brutal metal’s unyielding spirit and sonic brutality.

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Number 8 – ENTOMBED

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Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, ENTOMBED emerged as one of the pioneering Swedish Death Metal bands during the late 1980s.

Formed in 1987 under the name NIHILIST, the band initially consisted of guitarist Alex Hellid, drummer Nicke Andersson, and guitarist/bassist Leif Cuzner. With a desire to explore a heavier and more brutal sound, they soon recruited Lars-Göran Petrov as their vocalist, solidifying the lineup that would become ENTOMBED.

Renowned for their influential debut album, “Left Hand Path” (1990), the band quickly gained recognition for their distinct blend of buzzsaw guitar tones, relentless aggression, and a palpable sense of melody, helping shape the Swedish extreme metal sound.

ENTOMBED‘s discography is marked by a willingness to experiment within the metal framework. Their sophomore release, “Clandestine” (1991), saw them collaborating with the renowned Orchestre National de Montpellier, fusing extreme metal with orchestral elements.

The band continued to evolve with albums like “Wolverine Blues” (1993), incorporating elements of rock and roll into their sound, creating a subgenre often referred to as “death ‘n’ roll.” This versatility showcased ENTOMBED‘s impact on metal, not only as genre innovators but also as a band unafraid to push boundaries and explore new sonic territories.

With 9 studio albums having been released by ENTOMBED thus far, the band continues to tour to throngs of rabid crowds worldwide. Their 1990 debut album, “Left Hand Path“, is considered essential extreme metal listening.

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Number 7 – OBITUARY

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Formed in Tampa, Florida, in 1984, OBITUARY stands as one of the pioneering bands in Florida Death Metal. Originally known as EXECUTIONER, the band underwent a name change in 1988, settling on OBITUARY to better represent their dark and morbid aesthetic.

The founding lineup featured John Tardy (vocals), his brother Donald Tardy (drums), Trevor Peres (guitar), Allen West (guitar), and Daniel Tucker (bass). OBITUARY‘s relentless and aggressive style, characterized by John Tardy‘s distinctive guttural vocals and the band’s crushing guitar riffs, quickly solidified their place in the burgeoning, brutal metal scene.

OBITUARY‘s impact on metal is most evident in their early discography, with landmark releases such as “Slowly We Rot” (1989) and “Cause of Death” (1990). These albums, produced by the legendary Scott Burns, played a pivotal role in shaping the band’s sound with their raw intensity and uncompromising brutality.

OBITUARY‘s influential role continued with subsequent releases like “The End Complete” (1992) and “World Demise” (1994), showcasing their ability to evolve while maintaining their signature style. Their contributions to extreme metal extend beyond their own discography, as OBITUARY has consistently been regarded as one of the genre’s most iconic and enduring acts.

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Number 6 – CARCASS

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Originating from Liverpool, England, CARCASS is a seminal extreme metal band that played a significant role in shaping the genre’s evolution.

Formed in 1985 by Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and Ken Owen (drums), CARCASS initially ventured into the grindcore realm with their early releases, such as “Reek of Putrefaction” (1988) and “Symphonies of Sickness” (1989). As one of the pioneering bands in the goregrind subgenre, CARCASS gained recognition for their unrelenting intensity, graphic lyrics, and complex musical arrangements.

CARCASS‘s contribution to metal extends beyond grindcore, particularly with the release of “Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious” (1991) and “Heartwork” (1993). These albums marked a shift toward a more melodic and intricate sound, introducing elements of death ‘n’ roll. The band’s ability to seamlessly blend technicality with melody influenced a generation of metal acts. Their impact is especially notable in the melodic extreme metal subgenre, where CARCASS remains a key reference point for bands seeking a balance between brutality and musical sophistication.

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Number 5 – SUFFOCATION

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SUFFOCATION is an American extreme metal band from Centereach, New York. This group is absolutely revered as one of the best extreme metal bands in music today. And rightfully so.

Initially formed in 1988 by vocalist Frank Mullen, guitarists Guy Marchais and Todd German and bassist Josh Barohn (none of whom remain with the group today, with the departure of Mullen in 2019), SUFFOCATION endures due to longtime shredder Terrance Hobbs (who joined the fold in 1991).

SUFFOCATION have released 8 studio albums to date, and continue to be a relentless attack of sheer, brutal metal with hints of grindcore, death doom and deathcore elements.

If you’re looking for some straight-up, good ol’ American brutality coupled with extreme guttural vocals, we would, without question, suggest a healthy order of SUFFOCATION.

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Number 4 – POSSESSED

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Hailing from San Francisco, California, POSSESSED is often hailed as one of the earliest and most influential bands in the extreme metal genre.

The roots of the band trace back to 1983 in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Mike Torrao (guitar) and Mike Sus (drums) formed a garage band called POSSESSED alongside vocalist Barry Fisk and former EXODUS bassist Jeff Andrews. As the quartet began creating music, tragedy struck when Fisk took his own life by gunshot in front of his girlfriend’s house in Tara Hills, California. In the aftermath, Jeff Andrews chose not to continue with the group.

Simultaneously, Jeff Becerra, a bassist and vocalist, found himself separated from his band BLIZZARD in the nearby city of Pinole. BLIZZARD, featuring Larry LaLonde and Danny Boland on guitars and Michael Miner on drums, all shared the same graduating class from Pinole Valley High School. Torrao and Sus, seeking to rebuild POSSESSED, approached Becerra to take on both the vocal and bassist roles. The band placed an advertisement for a new guitarist, which led to Brian Montana joining, marking the second incarnation of POSSESSED.

POSSESSED‘s groundbreaking debut album, “Seven Churches” (1985), solidified their status as pioneers of extreme metal. The album featured a blend of thrash metal aggression with occult and Satanic themes, setting the stage for the emerging metal movement. Notably, “Seven Churches” showcased Jeff Becerra‘s distinctive guttural growls, a vocal style that would become a defining characteristic of the genre.

Despite their significant impact on the genre, POSSESSED faced challenges, including lineup changes and a temporary hiatus. Nevertheless, their legacy endured, and they returned with “Beyond the Gates” (1986) and “The Eyes of Horror” (1987), influencing countless bands and contributing to the development of extreme metal.

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Number 3 – MORBID ANGEL

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Hailing from Tampa, Florida, MORBID ANGEL stands as one of the pioneering and influential bands in the extreme metal genre.

Formed in 1983 by guitarist Trey Azagthoth, the band has undergone several lineup changes throughout its existence. After solidifying a stable lineup, MORBID ANGEL released their debut album, “Altars of Madness,” in 1989, which is widely regarded as a landmark in the metal scene. This album showcased their technical prowess, with intricate guitar work, intense drumming, and David Vincent‘s distinctive growling vocals. MORBID ANGEL‘s uncompromising and innovative approach to extreme metal helped set the standard for the genre’s brutal and complex sound.

Following their debut success, MORBID ANGEL continued to shape the extreme metal landscape with albums like “Blessed Are the Sick” (1991), “Covenant” (1993), and “Domination” (1995). These releases further solidified the band’s reputation for pushing the boundaries of the genre, incorporating elements of industrial and avant-garde music.

Despite internal changes in the band, including lineup shifts and the departure and return of key members, MORBID ANGEL‘s impact on heavy metal remained significant. Their influence can be heard in the work of countless bands that followed, with their technical prowess, dark atmospheres, and unrelenting brutality serving as inspiration for the evolving brutal metal genre.

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Number 2 – CANNIBAL CORPSE

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CANNIBAL CORPSE is one of the most well-known extreme metal bands in the world, rightfully credited with helping to develop the genre as a whole.

Formed in Buffalo, New York in 1988, the group have unleashed a total of 16 pulverizing studio albums to date.

CANNIBAL CORPSE‘s form of metal is characterized by its fast tempos, technical abilities and brutal riffs, coupled with lyrics often dealing with death, violence, addiction, horror and insanity.

Since their formation in 1988, CANNIBAL CORPSE have had a total of 15 different members. This high turnover rate is partially due to some artists going off to join other metal acts, or simply because they no longer fit into the collective of the technically sound group.

Most notably, the switch from original CANNIBAL CORPSE vocalist Chris Barnes, who went on to form SIX FEET UNDER, to current frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who would carry out the difficult task of replacing a singer and boosting the band’s success with his booming, guttural vocal attack.

CANNIBAL CORPSE have the amount of talent and brutal creativity to produce some of the most revered extreme music out there. With releases like “Butchered at Birth” and “Torture“, they have set the standard for metal brutality, and they continue to push the envelope within the metal scene with each new release.

If you’re looking for something that will make your ears bleed, then look no further than CANNIBAL CORPSE. (We recommend starting out with the classic Barnes-era “Butchered at Birth“, but honestly anything they’ve released really works.)

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Number 1 – DEATH

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Hailing from the sunny state of Florida, DEATH, founded by the visionary Chuck Schuldiner in 1983, stands as one of the most influential and groundbreaking bands in the history of extreme metal.

Schuldiner, often hailed as the “Godfather” of the era, initially formed the band under the name MANTAS, eventually evolving into DEATH. The band’s early releases, such as “Scream Bloody Gore” (1987) and “Leprosy” (1988), showcased a raw and ferocious sound that helped define the nascent genre.

However, it was with subsequent releases like “Human” (1991) and “Individual Thought Patterns” (1993) that DEATH transcended the boundaries of conventional brutal metal, introducing intricate song structures, progressive elements, and virtuosic musicianship.

DEATH‘s impact on the extreme metal genre goes far beyond their sonic innovations. Chuck Schuldiner‘s relentless pursuit of musical excellence and experimentation set a standard for aspiring musicians within the genre.
As the principal songwriter and driving force behind DEATH, Schuldiner continuously pushed the boundaries of metal, earning the band a reputation for both technical proficiency and artistic integrity.

Even after Schuldiner‘s untimely death in 2001, DEATH‘s legacy endures, with their discography serving as a blueprint for the evolution of progressive extreme metal and inspiring countless bands across the spectrum.

DEATH is the reason this list is here. Seriously though. Listen to “Scream Bloody Gore“. An awesome debut album for not just a band but a whole subgenre. Just pure, old-school death metal at it’s finest.

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Final Words

Whether it be melodic, technical, old school or some progressive metal band with crust punk and black metal elements whose second album just speaks to you in a way you just can’t and don’t feel like explaining to anyone, all it takes is one band or one song or one album to send a shiver down your spine and fill you with adrenaline to get you hooked to the beautiful brutality that is extreme metal.

Some other notable bands who we did want to mention who came very close to being on this list via your votes are BOLT THROWER, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, MALEVOLENT CREATION, DARK TRANQUILLITY, DEAD CONGREGATION, MISERY INDEX, BLOOD INCANTATION and many more.

The bands on this list are some of the best this type of music has to offer, and they represent everything that extreme metal stands for: brutality, creativity, technical ability, and pure savagery.

Even today’s metal bands like OUTER HEAVEN, TOMB MOLD, RIVERS OF NIHIL and others are crushing ravenous crowds every night, pummeling them into oblivion with their raw and aggressive sound.

So if you’re looking for something heavy to listen to, or maybe your usual heavy metal fix just isn’t filling that void inside, then this is a genre you should certainly investigate.