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Death metal a macabre, acquired taste that’s truly a dark delicacy

It sounds like a pulled groin feels.

Death metal: It’s the music of pain and suffering, grimaces and grins.

Basically, it’s just good, friendly violent fun.

Guttural vomited vocals, bludgeoning meat-cleaver riffing, speed-of-sound drumming: Sure, it’s an acquired taste, but so is bourbon.

And we’d argue that death metal is, in fact, a tasty musical delicacy, like caviar, but covered in entrails and puke.

This Saturday, one of the best death metal-centric shows of the summer is taking place at The Cheyenne Saloon, where Carcass-lovin’ Bay Area brutes Exhumed headline alongside long-running Midwestern sickos Macabre, avant grind square pegs Cephalic Carnage, the blackened fusillade of Withered and Vegas heavy hitters Spun in Darkness, The Genocide Architect and False Cause.

In honor of this boulder-heavy bill, we thought we’d break down the appeal of death metal for the uninitiated:

■ It’s like a horror flick set to a beat — a really fast one.

The appeal of death metal is the same as that of a good splatter flick: It diffuses the violence that surrounds us — on the news, outside your window — by making a caricature of it all.

Horror is cathartic, a pressure valve, a way to deal with that which intimidates and scares in safe, entertaining (for some) fashion.

Far from breeding new fears, scary movies really help us cope with those that we already have.

And death metal is the musical equivalent of the celluloid nightmares mined from the depths of the psyches of George Romero, John Carpenter, Dario Argento and others.

Much of death metal is directly inspired by specific horror films, as bands such as Mortician, Kataklysm, Deicide and, yes, Exhumed, to name but a few, include samples from various fright flicks on their albums or have direct lyrical allusions to them.

Horror movies aren’t for everyone, but the best of the genre — "The Exorcist," "The Shining," "Night of the Living Dead" — are lauded for their artfulness.

Death metal, too, has its share of dead weight, the sonic parallel to the "Saw" series.

But the top bands deserve to be recognized alongside the defining acts of any other genre for being a cut above — and by "cut," we mean a deep gash to the jugular.

■ There are no ulterior motives.

Breaking wind in confined spaces is more socially accepted than being a death metal die-hard.

It’s never been cool to dig this stuff, and it never will be.

And this is a large part of its appeal: the purity of the fandom for both those who consume it and those who create it.

For the bands that play this type of music, there’s little to no financial gain.

The top-selling death metal album of all time, Morbid Angel’s "Covenant," has sold a little more than 150,000 copies, and the biggest band in the scene, Cannibal Corpse, is good for drawing around 1,000 fans a night on the road, give or take a few hundred, depending on the market.

And that, right there, is the pinnacle of the genre, commercially speaking.

Point being, most bands that play death metal do it for the sheer appreciation of the music and little else.

It may sound like the musical distillation of sheer hate, but really, death metal is a labor of love.

■ Actually, it’s really kinda funny.

Granted, the sense of humor in death metal tends to be as dark as an undertaker’s wardrobe, but for the most part, bands of this ilk don’t take themselves half as seriously as their detractors do.

Many acts, in fact, come with (forked) tongues planted firmly in cheek.

Take Exhumed, for instance.

The title of the band’s latest disc, "All Guts and No Glory," pretty much says it all: This is an equally fun and fierce bloodbath for those who prefer a song’s hooks to come covered in raw meat.

If things need to be spelled out further, tunes such as "So Let It Be Rotten … So Let It Be Done" and "Dis-assembly Line" should do the trick.

In the same way that John Waters used a self-aware camp to highlight the absurdities of pop culture, these dudes do much the same, albeit in a more grim context.

Basically, this is modern-day gallows humor.

Hey, if you’ve gotta die — and we all do — you may as well go out with a smile on your face.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

 

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