Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Released May 25th, 1987 on Combat Records
The 1980s saw a grinding evolution of metal, one that splintered so deeply that there is today internecine warfare between various sub-sub-sub-genres that spun out of each of the genre fractures that came about in the decade. To understand what in the living fuck extreme technical melodic death metal is, you have to first parse out each of the various categories inherent in that genre and understand the paths that led to them. Thankfully we don’t have to do that here, because Scream Bloody Gore was a – some say the – founding document of the disgusting bloody mess that is death metal.
Metal was covered in rock ‘n’ roll cheese for the most part until Judas Priest finally got good right near the end of the 1970s. Around the same time two major influences on the metal underground sprang to life: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and hardcore punk. NWBHM included bands like Diamond Head and Iron Maiden; these were tight, riff-heavy metal bands that emphasized modular songwriting. Hardcore punk brought speed, pounding drums, and amelodic shouting and made them de rigueur for being on the cutting edge of how far music could be pushed. The two were combined into thrash metal, a by-now familiar genre whose Big Four were Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. Of those four, the biggest influence on the ever-heavier underground was Slayer; some might try to add Celtic Frost or Venom into the mix, but the birth of death metal is entirely due to Hell Awaits and especially Reign In Blood. Death metal itself stems from Death, the band (and not the Detroit proto-punk band), whose early work spawned a whole host of disturbing weirdos first in Florida and later the world who would be inspired by it.
Scream Bloody Gore is basically Reign In Blood with a few major exceptions. To be sure, it’s built around pounding, speed-obsessed passages drawn directly from “Jesus Saves”, but Chuck Schuldiner’s guitars are tuned down a hell of a lot lower, he uses a lot more palm-muting, the emphasis is more on blastbeats than separable riffs, and the band utilizes breakdowns quite a bit more. Also, Schuldiner’s vocals are harsher than Tom Araya’s; Araya has a certain scream he uses that hits an interestingly high register, and it’s much easier to pick out what he’s singing about. Schuldiner’s vocals are more like the howlings of the eternally damned, pitched lower and more of blurred screams than anything resembling what people traditionally think of as “singing”. The lyrics also feature a notable difference. Reign In Blood was about evil Nazi death-doctors and the hypocrisy of religion and insanity. Scream Bloody Gore, meanwhile, is exactly what it says on the tin: these are about zombies, cannibals, blood, slaughter, and gore. This, in essence, would be what “death metal” would be about from 1987 onward: downtuned guitars, blastbeats, low-pitched howls, and gore, gore, gore.
The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Scream Bloody Gore as “the first death metal album” and this is true of everywhere outside of Belo Horizonte. An entire underground industry was born out of it and the bands that poked their heads out of their dank practice spaces because of it. The production quality is utterly primitive by modern standards, but there are still bands who chase that sound out of a sense of purity and complete anti-commercialism. Schuldiner’s death in 2001 put a halt to the band’s activities but they remain among the most influential bands in modern metal – certainly the crazed proliferation of both bands and sub-genres would never have happened without Death or Scream Bloody Gore.