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Technical death metal and progressive death metal are subgenres of Death Metal that infuse the (in)famous assaulting musical brutality of the genre with the technicality and elaborate musical structures of Progressive Metal. The songs tend to be very complex, and often include influences from other genres, such as jazz or classical music; the result is a highly cerebral musical style that rewards close and repeated listening, without surrendering the unrelenting musical aggression Death Metal is known for.
There is, or can be, a difference between "technical death metal" and "progressive death metal", though many artists fit both descriptions or oscillate between. While both are undeniably musically sophisticated and extremely brutal, tech death bands tend to come across as much more intense, often performing their complex compositions with blinding speed and pounding aggression, or in a manner that emphasises the virtuosic skill and precision of the performances. Technical death metal can thus sometimes have a somewhat machine-like, "triggered" sound, with instruments starting and stopping suddenly or irregularly, playing precisely calculated riffs or patterns which shift frequently and sometimes seemingly at random, only to form part of a larger motif or series of progressions which become apparent upon close listening.
"Progressive death metal", on the other hand, tempers the conventional "death metal" repertoire of elements with jazzy breakdowns, melodic refrains, unusual (for death metal) instrumentation and vocalisation, or slower tempi, and generally draws liberally from diverse musical traditions to create elaborate, multilayered sounds that evolve across lengthy and eclectic albums. Progressive death metal thus tends to be more diverse or less identical-sounding, in that while tech death bands commonly draw inspiration from other musical forms, progressive death metal bands often do so multiply within a single song or album, and though demonstrably capable of the sort of chops-intensive wizardry found in tech death, prog death bands often forego these displays in favour of allowing their compositions time to breath via greater repetition, subtler permutation, and more extensive progression.
Thus the distinction could be argued to be that technical death metal prides itself on instrumental skill and experimentation, while progressive death metal prides itself on compositional exploration and originality. A quicker way to explain the difference to a metalhead would be this:
- Progressive: Opeth
- Technical: Decapitated
Deserving special attention are Death, not only for inventing Death Metal as a whole, but for subsequently kickstarting both prog and tech with their 1991 album Human, which stood head-and-shoulders above contemporaneous releases in terms of the proficiency and originality of its songcraft and production, with seriously insightful lyrics accompanying inventive chords through inspired and memorable songwriting. It and all subsequent Death albums are considered standard-setting classics, with Human and Individual Thought Patterns cleaving more closely to technical death metal and Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance closer to progressive death metal to the contemporary ear.
Further bands that are generally classified as technical/progressive death metal (exact subgenre noted by their name) include:
- Akercocke (prog, although they are a slight case of Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly and could also be classified as blackened death metal or progressive black metal)
- Arsis (tech)
- Atheist (prog and tech)
- Augury (prog and tech)
- Becoming the Archetype (prog)
- Behold ... The Arctopus
- Beneath the Massacre (tech)
- Between the Buried and Me (prog)
- Beyond Creation (prog and tech)
- Blotted Science (prog and tech)
- Brain Drill (tech)
- Buried Future
- Cephalic Carnage (prog and tech) (also Deathgrind)
- The Chasm (prog and tech)
- Cryptopsy, before they changed their style to Deathcore. (tech)
- Cynic (prog, arguably tech)
- Decapitated (tech)
- Deeds Of Flesh, at least their recent work. (tech)
- Demilich (tech)
- Devolved (tech)
- Dying Fetus (tech)
- Edge of Sanity (prog)
- Eternal Grey (prog and tech)
- The Faceless (tech)
- Fleshgod Apocalypse (tech; mixed with Symphonic Metal)
- Gojira (tech, occasional elements of prog) (also Groove Metal)
- Gorguts (prog and tech)
- Meshuggah (tech, also prog on I and Catch 33; Your Mileage May Vary as to whether they truly count as part of the subgenre)
- Mitochondrion (prog)
- Necrophagist (tech)
- Neuraxis (tech)
- Nile (prog and tech)
- Node (tech)
- Obscura (prog)
- Opeth (prog)
- Origin (tech)
- Pestilence (tech)
- Psycroptic (tech)
- Quo Vadis (tech, debatably prog}
- Sadist (prog)
- Sculptured (prog)
- Spawn of Possession (tech)
- Suffocation (tech)
- Tiamat (prog, on Wildhoney only)
- Timeghoul (prog and tech)
- Ulcerate (prog and tech)
- Veil of Maya (tech) (also Deathcore)
Tropes that apply to prog/tech death:
- Awesomeness By Analysis - Quite frequently; chances are good that nobody you know could perform, let alone write, most of this stuff.
- Badass Normal - Implied by the above.
- Crowning Music of Awesome - Frequently, although Your Mileage May Vary, as with all Death Metal.
- Epic Rocking - Frequently, especially on the prog side of the family.
- Lyrical Dissonance - Despite being death metal, lyrics range about evenly from the traditional Deathy Gorn to philosophy, social commentary, speculative fiction, spirituality or the occult, and even comedy.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness - Techdeath comes in at 9-10, with an occasional dip down to 8. Prog-death goes up and down so much it's pointless to try determining its hardness.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - Mostly prog death, which often aims to produce truly excellent death metal by combining it with elements of just about every other excellent form of music in existence.
- The Power of Rock - Extreme; both prog and tech are essentially concerted attempts to produce weapons-grade face-melting awesomeness.
- Trope Maker and Ur Example - Death, latest common ancestor of all modern Death Metal, arguably began life as an extremely technical offshoot of Thrash Metal and continued to progify as the genre matured.
- Uncommon Time - Fuck yes.
- Up to Eleven - Ubiquitous; in fact, pushing the envelope at all levels of musicality is virtually axiomatic of both prog and tech death.