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Death Squad: The Deathcore Round-Up

Death Squad: The Deathcore Round-Up

Originally published in Guitar World, April 2009

Combine the palm-muted rage of death metal with metalcore’s breakdowns and grooves, and whaddaya get? Deathcore! Guitar World explores the latest hardcore phenomenon through interviews with All Shall Perish, Suicide Silence and other leaders of the pack.

 

When Arizona’s Job for a Cowboy burst onto the national metal scene in 2005—thanks to the surprise viral success of a clever YouTube clip that synced JFAC’s “Knee Deep” to a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon—no one expected that the sound they championed would become metal’s next big thing. But that’s exactly what has happened to the genre now known as deathcore.

For the uninitiated, deathcore takes the fast, palm-muted fury of traditional death metal and merges it with metalcore’s requisite breakdowns and grooves, with vocals running the gamut from hardcore bark to grind grunts. In the time since a frenzied bidding war resulted in JFAC inking with Metal Blade Records, metal labels have been scrambling to snatch up bands with a similar sound. What’s more, deathcore bands like the Red Chord and Suicide Silence have earned high-profile opening spots on large package tours with Disturbed and Slipknot.

To consider the history of deathcore, you need to look back to the Nineties at death metallers like New York’s Suffocation, who began adding hardcore breakdowns to their blast beats and power chords. Inspired by these rousing crowd pleasers, bands like Killswitch Engage and Bullet for My Valentine added touches of crossover thrash and melodic death to create the now-popular metalcore movement. Metalcore’s evil little brother appeared soon after, when bands like the Red Chord adopted metalcore’s breakdowns and death metal’s pummeling approach and ditched the melodic hooks altogether.

“Song structure, speed and vocal style are the main things that separate these subgenres,” says All Shall Perish axman Ben Orum. “If there is singing and melody, kids call it ‘metalcore.’ If it’s played at 220bpm and has low growling, it’s probably death metal. If it has a breakdown and brutal vocals, kids call it ‘deathcore.’ But it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all just metal!”

Deathcore’s practitioners have mixed feelings about the name—some hate it, some love it—but whatever you call it, the music is getting attention. “Deathcore is faster and more aggressive than anything these kids have ever heard,” says Suicide Silence guitarist Mark Heylmun. “They just want to rock and rebel. Since most rock and roll isn’t rebellious anymore and punk is dead, metal is their only hope. So when their parents send them to their rooms, they can cry, put on some deathcore…and spin-kick the walls!”

Here, we’ve rounded up the guitarists from five of deathcore’s hottest acts—All Shall Perish, the Red Chord, Suicide Silence, Whitechapel and Winds of Plague—and asked them a few questions in the hope of getting to the bottom of this new extreme metal phenomenon.

 

ALL SHALL PERISH

Oakland, California’s All Shall Perish add some Rusty Cooley influence to the deathcore genre in the form of lead guitarist Chris Storey, who has studied under the legendary ax man. On last year’s Awaken the Dreamers, their third record for Nuclear Blast, Storey launches melodic, fleet-fingered leads over the heavy riffs of rhythm guitarist Ben Orum to create a sound that is as elegant as it is brutal. What’s more? Cooley himself adds a face-melter to the track “From So Far Away.” Nice!


What the hell is deathcore?

BEN ORUM It’s a subgenre of metalcore, influenced by modern death metal. Most deathcore guitar work features breakdowns and melodic riffs, a trait that is attributed to the hardcore aspect of its metalcore influence.


Which death metal guitarist most influenced your style?

ORUM Hypocrisy’s Peter Tägtgren is a huge influence on me. He has written so many amazing riffs and songs.


Which hardcore guitarist and album most influenced your style?

ORUM Max Cavalera’s riffs and playing on Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. were a major influence on my style. I think that album was way ahead of its time and influenced a lot of hardcore bands.

CHRIS STOREY Back then I really liked One Nation Under. They had really awesome hardcore riffage.

 



What non-metal guitarist most influenced your style?

ORUM Hands down, my favorite non-metal guitarist is David Gilmour. His guitar playing has always spoken to me, whether in Pink Floyd or solo, like on his last album, On an Island.

STOREY There are tons, like [Black Oak Arkansas’] Shawn Lane, Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola and many more.


What technical skills are needed to play this music?

STOREY Breakdowns have enabled any kid to pick up a guitar, start a band and immediately join the scene. The danger when that happens is that the scene becomes way more important than the music, and the kids don’t even realize it. I try to work on all techniques, including seven-finger tapping, so that I don’t become a washed-up player who looks cool but can’t play.


What guitar approach makes you stand out from the pack?

ORUM My guitar approach is not so much about playing fast, or packing as many notes into a riff as possible, but more about invoking an emotion and engaging the listener.

STOREY I come from the Rusty Cooley approach to guitar. You can probably hear it in my playing, because it’s so over the top.


What about deathcore is catching the kids’ attention?

ORUM Deathcore’s youthful image and look brings more girls to the shows, then the girls attract the guys, and boom!—a crowd is formed.

STOREY This music is loud, angry and obnoxious. But I think that is only a small part of why it’s getting big. This whole identity is bought and sold, just like anything else. Don’t get me wrong—I like where things are going, because it helps me in the long run.


What piece of gear is crucial to making deathcore?

STOREY For me, it’s two Dean USA Rusty Cooley RG7G signature guitars, two Rocktron Prophesy IIs, VHT Two/Ninety/Two Series II stereo power amplifiers, a Furman power conditioner, a Whirlwind Selector A/B switch, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and a 100-watt Framus Dragon full stack.


What guitar are you playing, and why is it right for your sound?

ORUM I play Schecter seven-string guitars exclusively. They come stock with EMGs, which add a nice bite to my tone.


What’s the future of deathcore?

STOREY Hopefully that we’ll all be playing arenas.

 

THE RED CHORD

Massachusetts extreme metallers the Red Chord are led by guitarist Mike McKenzie, whose rhythmic approach reflects his love of old-school death metal like Suffocation, Immolation and Gorguts. On the Red Chord’s third album, Prey for Eyes, released on Metal Blade in 2007, McKenzie merges his death metal influences and love of crossover hardcore into riff after pummeling riff, which culminate into a dynamic record full of unexpected peaks and valleys.

What the hell is deathcore?

MIKE McKENZIE I suppose it’s a hybrid of death metal and whatever the kids are calling “hardcore” these days. It tends to contain overly abundant breakdowns and ideas stolen from Suffocation that are rarely executed with the same finesse.

What death metal guitarist most influenced your style?

McKENZIE Immolation’s Robert Vigna. Not only does it sound like he is actually torturing his guitar, he’s written some of the darkest and most brooding riffs imaginable. My playing owes a lot to his very unconventional, amazing work.

 


Which hardcore guitarist most influenced your style?

McKENZIE I didn’t listen to a lot of hardcore growing up because death metal covered everything I liked about music. But the first D.R.I. record [Dirty Rotten LP] really affected me. I was intrigued by the fact that they had such short songs. And I loved that they were so fast.

What non-metal guitarist most influenced your style?

McKENZIE Stevie Ray Vaughan was a huge influence on my playing. I have a pretty decent SRV bootleg collection.

What technical skills are needed to play this music?

McKENZIE I employ all kinds of techniques, like sweep arpeggios, speed picking and fast alternate picking. But songwriting is so much more important. I don’t care if you can shred circles around a John Petrucci/Al Di Meola mutant-hybrid guitar beast—if you can’t write a good song, who cares?

What guitar technique makes you stand out from the pack?

McKENZIE I have a strange habit of up-picking everything. I up-pick faster than I down-pick, so I up-pick all of the chugging riffs. It allows me to rake the strings a bit, which makes the riff sound a lot thicker.

What about deathcore is catching the kids’ attention?

McKENZIE Honestly, I don’t really know. I never thought I would see the day when 14-year-old girls post videos on YouTube of their revolting pig squeals. Where were those girls when I was in high school? Being born I guess.

What guitar are you playing, and why is it right for your sound?

McKENZIE I am currently playing an LTD EC-1000 with EMG 81s. It’s great for our tone because the EMGs are really hot and combining that with the Peavey 6505+ gives me a really saturated, but controlled, tone.

How much time do you spend on MySpace, Facebook, etc. to promote your band?

McKENZIE We use our MySpace to let people know where we are playing and what our plans are, but we don’t really get in everyone’s face about it. Having a million “friends” doesn’t mean a million people will show up to your show. We owe any success we have to busting our ass on the road for years, not how many virtual friends we have.

What’s the future of deathcore?

McKENZIE I think in a few years deathcore will have the same fate as every trend in music. It will fizzle out and be replaced by another overly hyped 18th-generation subgenre. Then only the bands that remained independent of the classification will be left standing. The entertainment industry is fickle, and people grow tired of trends pretty quickly. Maybe all the deathcore bands will start playing zydeco-core next.

 

SUICIDE SILENCE

While Suicide Silence may call California’s sunny Riverside their home, their sound is anything but upbeat. Instead, the five-piece indulge in downtuned riffs and half-time breakdowns on their debut, The Cleansing, which struck an unforeseen chord with the public—the record became the highest-selling artist debut in label Century Media’s history. On The Cleansing, SS axmen Chris Garza and Mark Heylmun demonstrate an impressive ability to abruptly change gears from galloping death metal to dirty sludge, without ever sounding contrived. Word is that SS will be heading into the studio with producer Machine (Lamb of God) this February to begin recording their follow-up.

What the hell is deathcore?

MARK HEYLMUN It’s just a good way for people to generalize a new spin on metal, but I can say it’s become part of my balanced breakfast. I need a bowl of deathcore every morning before I start my day.



What non-metal guitarist most influenced your style?

CHRIS GARZA Jimi Hendrix is a big influence on me. Every aspect of his playing has always amazed me.

HEYLMUN Allan Holdsworth is one of those dudes who can really express his emotions with his music. He would make one hell of a metal player.

What distinguishes deathcore from metalcore and death metal?

GARZA Metalcore is missing the speed; death metal is missing the groove. Deathcore is the best of both worlds, so everyone is happy!

What technical skills are needed to play this music?

GARZA Speed picking is a big factor, and timing is important as well. Going from super-fast picking into a super-slow groove can really fuck your head up.

HEYLMUN Extremely solid right-hand technique is crucial, which means learning all picking styles. Pinch harmonics are a must, because sometimes you have to scream like a bat outta hell. Also, master the use of drop-fifth chords. Last but not least, throw that scale book out the window and just write what sounds good.

What guitar technique makes you stand out from the pack?

HEYLMUN My vibrato is what I like most about my playing. Most people just don’t get what string bending is all about. I like to hear it sing.

What about deathcore is catching the kids’ attention?

GARZA This is a good time for all genres of extreme metal. Everyone seems to be looking for the heaviest form of music out there, and this seems to be it.

What piece of gear is crucial to making deathcore?

GARZA Krank amps really bring out our sound. Mark and I are both running the Krankenstein heads and cabs. Their bottom end is unreal.

What guitar are you playing, and why is it right for your sound?

GARZA I currently use ESP SC-607 guitars. No other guitar can even come close to creating the sound and sustain of those ESP seven-strings.

HEYLMUN I play an LTD SC 607. It’s like the Les Paul of seven-strings: fat neck, heavy mahogany body and EMGs. It’s absolutely right for my sound because I like it to be fat and loud, yet smooth and articulate.

How much time do you spend on MySpace, Facebook, etc. to promote your band?

HEYLMUN Zero. It is a good tool for promotion, however it’s not the only way to promote your band. We promote ourselves by staying on the road all the time. Last year we played 255 shows. No amount of internet promoting can top that kind of exposure.

What’s the future of deathcore?

HEYLMUN I think bands will slowly dwindle away, leaving only a few select bands that will be considered true deathcore. The future of Suicide Silence is looking pretty promising, and I will see it to the end and enjoy every second of it.

 

 


WHITECHAPEL

Having formed in February 2006, Knoxville, Tennessee’s Whitechapel are relative newcomers to the scene. But as evidenced by their admirable album-per-year schedule, these six dudes aren’t wasting any time. On their latest album, 2008’s This Is Exile (Metal Blade), Whitechapel come off as the Lynyrd Skynyrd of deathcore, thanks to the triple-guitar assault of Alex Wade, Ben Savage and Zach Householder. With Wade and Householder providing constant rhythmic bombardment, Savage unleashes his searing leads at will.

What the hell is deathcore?

ALEX WADE Deathcore combines the fast, bludgeoning brutality of death metal with the aggression, energy and breakdowns of metalcore.

Which death metal guitarist or album most influenced your style?

WADE Definitely John Gallagher from Dying Fetus.

BEN SAVAGE Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. No one can touch the sheer aggression of his songs.

ZACH HOUSEHOLDER Dino Cazares from Fear Factory and Divine Heresy.

Which hardcore guitarist or album most influenced your style?
WADE Matt Fox from Shai Hulud. I was floored when I first heard That Within Blood Ill-Tempered.

SAVAGE Blood Has Been Shed definitely changed my outlook on heaviness with their landmark album Spirals, which is really the beginning of deathcore.

HOUSEHOLDER [Daniel] DL [Laskiewicz] from the Acacia Strain has always impressed me. That man is a machine!

What non-metal guitarist most influenced your style?

WADE Justin Beck from Glassjaw. His sense of groove and the way he structures songs with hooks and melody is astounding.

SAVAGE [Yes guitarist] Steve Howe’s technical chops have been vastly influential on me. But I take inspiration from anywhere, from Jimmy Page to John Fogerty to Paul McCartney.

HOUSEHOLDER George Thorogood and the Destroyers always intrigued me, because I loved the attitude that he put into his music.

What distinguishes deathcore from metalcore and death metal?

HOUSEHOLDER True death metal—Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Psycroptic, et cetera—has straight blast beats, a few groove parts, constant, indistinguishable vocals and no breakdowns. Metalcore features more major scales and an almost happier feel, with clean, singing vocals at times. Metalcore also has breakdowns, which it shares with deathcore, but deathcore is still meaner and less happy sounding.

What technical skills are needed to play this music?

WADE You need tight chops, good tremolo picking and an understanding of this style.

SAVAGE Left- and right-arm coordination and precision. I can always tell an experienced player from a beginner by his picking and strumming. A good sense of groove and timing is also helpful.

What piece of gear is crucial to making deathcore?

WADE As cheesy and Limp Bizkit as it sounds, I’d have to say a downtuned guitar is crucial.

SAVAGE I would say a tube amplifier like a Peavey 5150 or a Marshall JCM800. Other than good songwriting, that heavy, thick saturated guitar tone is the key element that makes most bands.

What guitar are you playing, and why is it right for your sound?

HOUSEHOLDER We all play ESP Stephen Carpenters SC-607s and Jackson seven-string guitars, which are mean-sounding, tough-looking instruments. They come stock with EMG pickups and locking tuners, which is perfect for getting that distorted metal guitar tone.

 


What’s the future of deathcore?

HOUSEHOLDER Some say that deathcore is just a fad and will die out soon enough. So our idea is to take deathcore to the next level.

 

WINDS OF PLAGUE

After initially forming under the name Bleak December back in 2002, this SoCal six-piece changed its name to Winds of Plague just in time to release its 2005 debut, A Cold Day in Hell. On last year’s sophomore album, Decimate the Weak (Century Media), Winds of Plague’s dual-riffing—care of Nick Piunno and Nick Eash—death growls and floor-punch breakdowns are augmented with bleak keyboard lines, which gives their sound an epic, Scandinavian vibe.

What the hell is deathcore?

NICK PIUNNO I have no idea. Someone out there decided to create a genre that blends death metal and hardcore and threw us in the mix, even though none of us consider ourselves a deathcore band.

NICK EASH I was hoping Guitar World magazine had the answer. I guess you could sum up deathcore as a genre made up by 13-year-old boys who spend too much time taking photos of themselves and posting them on MySpace. If I could tattoo “Winds of Plague is not a deathcore band” on my face, I would.

Which death metal album most influenced your style?
PIUNNO I like Necrophagist’s Epitaph, Dying Fetus’ Stop at Nothing and Vital Remains’ Dechristianize.
EASH Behemoth’s Demigod, Dimmu Borgir’s Death Cult Armageddon and Meshuggah’s Nothing, of course.

Which hardcore bands most influenced your style?

EASH Hardcore is a major ingredient in the whole Winds of Plague recipe, specifically bands like 100 Demons, Hatebreed, Icepick and Strife.

What distinguishes deathcore from metalcore and death metal?

PIUNNO I have no idea, but age seems to be a factor. You don’t see any 30-year-olds playing deathcore. It’s mostly kids right out of high school.

What technical skills are needed to play this music?

EASH Knowing your fretboard and theory will really help you. Personally, dive bombs are a big thing for me right now. I started doing them a few years ago and haven’t stopped.

What guitar approach makes you stand out from the pack?

EASH We tune in E standard, which is a bit different from what most bands do right now. A lot of guys are tuning down to drop-B or using seven-strings, but we play in E standard with only a few drop-D exceptions.

PIUNNO Kids actually argue with me and say it sounds way too detuned to be E. But if you play fourths on the E and the A strings, it sounds like you’re detuned. We play in E standard, but the way we play chords makes us sound as low as drop A.

What piece of gear is crucial to making deathcore?

PIUNNO I’d say a high-gain head, Ibanez Tube Screamer, cabs that have Celestion Vintage 30 speakers—

EASH And some EMGs in your guitar. Don’t even bother recording without those pickups.

What guitar are you playing, and why is it right for your sound?

PIUNNO I’ve used Washburns since I started playing guitar. I’ve also been rotating a Carvin CT3 in and out of my setup.

EASH I’m also playing Washburns and Carvins. The Carvins are great because they have a wide variety of models and neck shapes.

What’s the future of deathcore?

PIUNNO Who knows? It could be another fad, or it may have some longevity.

EASH There are some amazing bands in this genre that will go on to sell millions of records—and hopefully stay around long enough to outlive the name they’ve been lumped under!



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