20 Early 90s Technical Death Metal Albums You NEED to Hear!
Technical death metal; the pinnacle of death metal dexterity attempted by bands obsessed with constantly challenging themselves, demanding ever more from their own skill-set and embracing complex songwriting like no genre had before. The results were extraordinary and here’s Worship Metal’s pick of the 20 greatest technical death metal albums of the early 1990’s!
We’re talking the early 90’s here people, so nothing past 1994!
Hellwitch – Syzgial Miscreancy [USA] (1990)
Is Hellwitch’s Syzygial Miscreancy technical thrash or technical death metal? For the sake of this article, we’re leaning towards technical death metal and given that in 1990 the boundaries between the two sub-genres were being ceremoniously broken on a regular basis, we feel warranted in doing so!
Easily one of the most technically audacious, forward-thinking, brain-frazzling albums of the era, Syzygial Miscreancy must have sounded like it was from another planet back in 1990; such was its ability to shock with extreme blasts of speed, tempo-changes and schizoid vocals.
Sounding like a certifiably insane version of Sadus (which speaks volumes for how gonzo this album is), this short, sharp and savage assault on the senses somehow remained cohesive amidst a blitzkrieg of sounds. Syzygial Miscreancy remains a cult curio well worth the underground devotion it so fervently inspires.
Nocturnus – The Key [USA] (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 album, The Key, in 1990 and while most death metal bands of that era peered down into the dark, dank bowels of hell for inspiration, Nocturnus looked to the skies and conjured a sci-fi masterpiece of progressively-minded, technically-adventurous death metal which positively gleamed with space-age shine and divine talent.
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 technical death metal release.
Also recommended: Mike Browning may have ditched the vocals – with Dan Izzo picking up the mic – but 1992’s Thresholds is equal to The Key in almost every way.
Obliveon – From This Day Forward [Canada] (1990)
A thrashier version of Death circa Spiritual Healing / Human, Obliveon’s debut album was an immediate game-changer upon release and has become an all-time technical death/thrash classic from the golden era of forward-thinking metal.
Obliveon were part of the natural Canadian evolution that first began when Voivod crawled from the primordial swamp before, over time, casting aside the shackles of conformity and entering cyberspace. While they weren’t alone on embracing the more technical side of death/thrash, Obliveon‘s take on Voivod‘s early-doors experimentation was undoubtedly heavier than most; informed as much by death metal as it was traditional thrash.
As far as debut albums go, From this Day Forward was leagues ahead of the competition and you’d be hard pressed to find a more technical old school death/thrash album which delivers on so many levels. Speed, technicality, atmosphere, diversity, aggression….Obliveon‘s From This Day Forward has the lot!
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence [USA] (1991)
The finest progressive/technical death metal album ever conceived? We certainly think so and with Unquestionable Presence, Atheist challenged the norm 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 Atheist‘s 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.
Also recommended: We’re talking about one of the most talented bands in death meal history here so Atheist’s debut, Piece in Time (1990) and third album Elements (1993) are also, obviously, essential listening!
Death – Human [USA] (1991)
Chuck Schuldiner changed the landscape he originally helped to mould when Death released Human in 1991. Out went the gore and in came the intelligence, with Chuck dismissing the lump-headed violence of old (although Leprosy had already more than hinted at what was to follow) by embracing an introspective, humanistic approach. Backed up by a formidable death metal supergroup in its own right, Chuck and guitarist Paul Masvidal (Cynic), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Autopsy, Testament) and drummer Sean Reinhart (Cynic) shook the foundations of death metal and, alongside the heady influence of Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence and Pestilence’s Testimony Of The Ancients, gave birth to a new breed of technically astounding, progressively-minded death metal.
Death’s flawless freedom of expression floored the majority of their peers with “Flattening Of Emotions”, “Lack Of Comprehension” and “Vacant Planets” particularly showcasing the diversity each band member bought to the table.
Flurries of frenzied riffs and intricate bass and drum work competed with jazz-fusion passages of improvisation while still maintaining the backbone of death metal; these were songs you could philosophise over while still head-banging your head clean fell off. A deadly combination!
Pestilence – Testimony Of The Ancients [Netherlands] (1991)
With 1989’s Malleus Maleficarum embracing thrash, 1993’s Spheres cavorting with progressive jazz-fusion and their masterpiece, Consuming Impulse, concentrating on ultra-efficient brutality it’s left to one of the most forward-thinking albums of the period (we’re referring to Testimony Of The Ancients, obviously) to establish Pestilence as all-time cult heroes!
Distancing itself from the norm, Testimony Of The Ancients took the standard approach of 8 full-length tracks (notably, 8 progressive / technical death metal epics) and interjected succinct and atmospheric instrumental interludes, one-by-one alternating power and grace to achieve a formidable and other-worldly aura.
Because of this, Testimony Of The Ancients remains one of the most unique records in death metal’s illustrious history; experimental song structures jostling with obligatory neck-wreckers culminating in an absolutely perfect rendition of all that death metal can be when boundaries are unceremoniously broken.
Also recommended: The aforementioned Spheres is mind-bogglingly effective but less death metal inclined.
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten [USA] (1991)
In 1991, Suffocation were beyond brutal, they were another beast entirely and while Effigy Of The Forgotten must have come as quite the shellshock to the uninitiated, the furious technicality on display and multiple layers that rewarded the brave with each subsequent listen bringing into question the very nature of what death metal could achieve….and how extreme it could go!
With the most brutal vocals imaginable, courtesy of Frank Mullen’s pioneering throat savagery, a monumental and ground-breaking performance from Mike Smith on drums and some of the first breakdowns heard in death metal, Effigy Of The Forgotten was a true unknown and changed the face of death metal overnight.
Technical death metal had well and truly arrived!
Also recommended: 1993’s Breeding The Spawn upped the technicality while dialling down (just a little) the brutality.
Afflicted – Prodigal Sun [Sweden] (1992)
Swedish technical death metal by way of the Middle East anyone?
For reasons beknown only to them, Sweden’s Afflicted took Entombed’s blueprint and flayed it over a subtle Egyptian concept which snaked its way through Prodigal Sun‘s 47 minutes of unpredictable mayhem.
Fortunately, the results were absurdly addictive and while Afflicted remained identifiably part of the early 1990s Swedish death metal scene – the Sunlight Studio production being an immediate giveaway – their fearless attitude and technical skill clearly separated them from Entombed, Dismember, Grave etc.
So much potential, sadly unfulfilled.
Atrocity – Todessehnsucht [Germany] (1992)
Todessehnsucht (meaning ‘Longing For Death’ if you do not sprechen sie Deutsch) was the second studio album by German tech death metallers Atrocity and it would prove to be one of the pinnacle releases of the genre!
Technical to the extreme and absurdly progressive, the Glen Benton-esque growls and barks of Alexander Krull were efficiently offset by Atrocity’s onslaught of samples, keyboard interludes, woozy song structures and Chuck Schuldiner influenced flights of progressive fancy.
Determined and distinctive, Atrocity were operating at a ridiculously high level on Todessehnsucht and their own brand of vicious yet vicarious technical death metal remains a joy to behold.
An often overlooked masterpiece!
Also recommended: Atrocity’s 1990 debut Hallucinations was a strong indication of the genius to come!
Chemical Breath – Fatal Exposure [Belgium] (1992)
Precious few bands can match the intensity and skill of these awe-inspiring Belgians and anyone with a penchant for labyrinthine song structures, baffling tempo shifts and the pioneering spirit of early 90’s death/thrash will fall in love with Fatal Exposure, Chemical Breath’s exquisite debut.
Admittedly, Fatal Exposure does have more than a little thrash coursing through its veins – and squeezing it on to this list may prove to be divisive – but any opportunity to wax lyrical about this astonishing piece of work should be grasped with both hands. After hearing it, you’ll thank us for it!
Chemical Breath were incredible and you’d also do well to check out 1994’s follow up, Values.
Paraxism from Finland released the 3 song EP .xism Excursion in 96. Defiantly worth a listen.
Cheers. This list was albums only so no EP’s. Thanks for the heads-up though!