Having waxed lyrical about 10 old school death metal albums we’d decided we couldn’t possibly live without, we thought we’d throw ANOTHER 10 into the mix as well!
So, having already covered the likes of Autopsy’s Severed Survival, Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness, Obituary’s Cause Of Death, Entombed’s Left Hand Path and more, it’s the turn of 10 MORE old school death metal albums to prove their ever-lasting significance and a steadfast place in our collective hearts…..
Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption (1990)
Take a trip to Morrisound Recording studios and this is what you get….pure early 90’s death metal genius from a band who’d already revolutionised grindcore with their 2 previous releases!
Napalm Death’s Mentally Murdered EP had already indicated a change was coming but few could have predicted Napalm’s wholesale embrace of death metal. Roping in soon to be scene legends John Tardy (Obituary) and Glen Benton (Deicide) made it pretty clear that death was the order of the day and their contribution to “Unfit Earth” signalled a union between giants of the genre.
In purely death metal terms, the band would never fully capture again such a dense wall of death and while Harmony Corruption could be accused of being a meat ‘n’ potatoes kind of release (especially when compared to the majority of Napalm Death’s back catalogue), that would be missing the point.
This was death metal in 1990!
Nocturnus – The Key (1990)
When Mike Browning was unceremoniously set adrift from an early-era Morbid Angel, his answer was to return with a band whose identity was just as unique as the more famous band he’d originally helped engineer.
Nocturnus released their debut in 1990 and while most death metal bands of that era peered down into the bowels of hell for inspiration, Nocturnus looked to the skies and conjured a sci-fi masterpiece of progressive death metal which possibly gleamed with space-age shine and technical efficiency.
Not only were Nocturnus a rarity in having a drummer as a vocalist they also pioneered the use of keyboards in death metal, a brave move but one that immeasurably adds to the otherworldly atmosphere and originality of this unique death metal release.
Convulse – World Without God (1991)
One of the most brutal releases from the first wave of death metal, these Finnish nightmare-makers harnessed the dirty downtuned guitar tone made famous by Entombed, Dismember etc, added ultra guttural vocals courtesy of Rami Jämsä and unleashed an eerie, sonically vicious cult classic in the grotesque shape of World Without God!
Convulse went darker than most and saddled with a sound befitting the era, their unremittingly dense, claustrophobic tone and complete lack of subtlety adhered faithfully to death metal’s original modus operandi. Anyone with a taste for musical violence found their appetite satiated via the utter depravity and barbarity on display.
A true cult classic, World Without God may not have the reputation afforded the majority of the albums on this list but its pedigree remains undisputed.
Deicide – Deicide (1991)
Deicide’s debut is a true classic of the genre, completely devoid of mercy and intent on bludgeoning its blasphemous rhetoric over your head until you submit…it’s fuckin’ brilliant in other words.
With a terrifyingly tight approach to satanic slaughter, Deicide unleashed insane blastbeats, demonic growls, howls, screeches and barks and riffs that were creative, coruscating and as fiery as Hell itself.
Classic follows classic as “Lunatic Of God’s Creation”, “Sacrificial Suicide”, “Dead By Dawn” and “Carnage In The Temple Of The Damned” blur into a swirling vortex of noise and religion-despising diatribes. The bands commitment to causing offence remains completely believable – and generally disturbing – as vocalist Glen Benton channels demonic possession to the point of lascivious lunacy.
Deicide would go on to release albums equally as mesmerising (Legion, Once Upon The Cross, The Stench Of Redemption), but none would be quite as epochal as their genre defining debut.
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence (1991)
The finest progressive death metal album ever conceived? We certainly think so and with Unquestionable Presence, Atheist transformed the death metal landscape in a blitzkrieg of technical bass lines, dissonant and warped riffs unaccustomed to generic structure and an almost improvised feel to Steve Flynn’s commanding drumming.
Led by Kelly Schaefer’s rasp-inflected growl, the primitive nature of death metal was dissolved overnight within a framework of challenging lyricism and even more challenging musicianship. Structured chaos reigned as thrash, death, jazz, fusion and prog rock collided in an esoteric force of will, fuelled by integrity, vision and an unwavering commitment to forge forward into new terrain. While Atheists’ debut, Piece Of Time, had turned heads, Unquestionable Presence blew minds.
Unquestionable Presence remains a landmark record in the history of death metal and it’s more than a little unnerving to think that this pioneering piece of artistry came from the minds of 4 human beings.
Unquestionably unmatched, unparalleled and utterly unique.
Bolt Thrower – War Master (1991)
Bolt Thrower, oh how we miss you!
Let’s face it you could take your pick from their first 4 groundbreaking albums and all would sit proudly here. As it turns out, we’ve settled on 1991’s War Master, Bolt Thrower’s first pure death metal release (any evidence of grindcore now jettisoned) and a bone-fide death metal classic.
The UK may not have been as prolific as the U.S in the death metal stakes but we did produce arguably its greatest band – the mighty and magnificent Bolt Thrower – and War Master signalled a band who were ready to take on the big guns of the scene.
Karl Willets vocals were deadly yet distinctive – a voice that would become one of the most recognisable in death metal – while the band outclassed themselves with a more considered approach to their deathly bludgeoning. Slowing down and embracing a keener ear for melody, the likes of “Cenotaph” and “What Dwells Within” were juggernauts, smashing and crashing their way into your head-space with glimpses of thrash and doom hidden within their DNA.
Self determination, defiance, bloody-knuckled hard-work and a DIY aesthetic summed up the UK’s finest ever proponents of death metal and that was none more apparent than on this classic release.
Masters of War!
Massacre – From Beyond (1991)
Home to ridiculously catchy riffs and harsh but decipherable death growls from Kam Lee – a vocal style he is often cited for inventing – From Beyond, Massacre’s debut, remains an underrated masterpiece overflowing with some of the greatest compositions found in the first wave of the genre.
Death metal may have progressed rapidly after From Beyond‘s release – and it does sound almost quaint compared to the extreme death and grind albums released in the preceding years – but precious few death metal albums contain songs as memorable as the ones found here.
Featuring heavily distorted guitars and the kind of demonic vocals that would make Deicide’s Glen Benton reach for a lozenge, Massacre were a death metal super-group before the term existed, with these ex-members of Death – Kam Lee (Vocals), Rick Rozz (Guitar), Terry Butler (Bass) & Bill Andrews (Drums) – summoning forth an album of diabolic intensity.
When you need a break from being assaulted by today’s overly technical material, have a listen to From Beyond and remind yourself exactly why real old-school death metal remains so thrillingly effective!
Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick (1991)
Following up Altars Of Madness was always going to be tricky but Morbid Angel cast off the shackles of their genre-defining debut by further establishing themselves as one of the most weirdly unique sounding outfits to emerge from death metal’s first wave.
Morbid Angel operated without limitations, the past having no baring on their own innovation and it left them free to explore new realms. Their blackened souls were further charred via Trey Azagorath and Richard Brunelle’s inhuman riffs, David Vincent’s outstanding (and most importantly audible) vocals and Pete Sandoval’s tireless drumming invention which, when so flawlessly combined, flung the band headfirst into the abyss
With other-worldly song structures creating a singular vision, Morbid Angel’s ability to achieve true heaviness by slowing down (as opposed to many of their peers speeding up in order to reach similar peaks) led to one of the most unique collections of audible nightmares ever conceived and a collection of songs that somehow managed to invoke pure chaos while somehow remaining catchy
Malevolent Creation – Retribution (1992)
A stone-cold classic from death metal’s early days, Retribution is the greatest record Malevolent Creation lent their name to and remains a searing blast of hellish speed and aggression.
Thrash’s influence still looms large with Rob Barrett and Phil Fasciana’s riffs echoing Slayer and Kreator at their most scathing while still pushing death metal forward into unchartered territory and Brett Hoffman’s formidable vocals are guttural yet discernible, a positive in a genre when lyrics can be lost amidst a barrage of grunts and squeals. The production, a vast improvement on the weak sound found on their still excellent debut, adds serious muscle and clarity to a set of songs primed for ultimate impact and helps push Retribution into the elite of death metal albums.
As a gateway album to death metal’s brand of frenzied fury, Retribution is indispensable. It’s bridging of thrash and death providing easy access to the uninitiated and “Eve Of The Apocalypse”, “Slaughter Of Innocence” and “Mindlock” are discernible highlights, each track administering a thrashed-up, groove-laden bashing to the brain.
In the early 1990’s, Floridian death metal seemed to throw up a quality release every other day and while Retribution may not be technically astonishing, it is damn consistent and damn near essential to any definitive death metal collection.
Nile – Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998)
We’re pushing it with the ‘old-school’ tag here, but fuck it, we’re sticking to our decision….
Death metal was drowning in shit creek when Nile released their astonishing debut in 1998, and a struggling scene instantly found itself revitalised and reinvigorated.
Here was a band that took the core of death metal, the blast-beats, the growls, the requisite speed and ferocity and not only reproduced it better than everyone else but also introduced influences rarely heard in the genre .
With short, carefully structured songs incorporating all manner of Egyptian themes and instruments, Nile instantly had a sound of their own. Deftly balancing guttural growls with flutes, percussion, effective chanting and an epic atmosphere that bordered on the biblical, the blasting and the Egyptian symbolism were juxtaposed perfectly.
While Nile would arguably go on to record better albums, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka remains a pivotal release and one that further widened death metal’s often self-imposed confines.
We can’t live without any of ’em….how about you?