As a general rule, the UK’s contribution to death metal gets glossed over in favour of the output of our American cousins (who’s contribution, to be fair, was revolutionary) but to overlook the UK’s considerable input would be foolish….at worst, it’s bloody sacrilege!
So, Worship Metal has cast its eye back to a time when old-school UK death metal was producing some truly outstanding releases but take note, we’re talking old school here, so strictly early to mid 1990’s only!
In other words, don’t go crying your self to sleep on your snot-stained pillow just because Bolt Thrower‘s 2005 classic Those Once Loyal isn’t included!!
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!
Cancer – To The Gory End (1990)
It was a close call between 1990’s To The Gory End and 1991’s Death Shall Rise for inclusion here but it’s Cancer’s grisly debut that holds a naive charm and exemplifies the joy in streamlined, straight to the point and deadly simplistic death metal!
With more than just a little thrash in Cancer’s sound, the band truly excelled when delivering evil strains that rejected technicality in favour of an endless sea of effortlessly brutal riffing. This was seriously nasty stuff and the likes of “Cancer Fucking Cancer” were as distasteful as they sound. Fortunately, each track came laced with endless head-crushing riffs making this a mandatory album for those ‘in the know’ in the early 90’s.
Like an unidentified killer burying a machete deep in the back of your head, Cancer’s iconic debut never missed, it never faltered and it never pretended to be anything but a merciless killing machine….right through to the gory end!
Benediction – The Grand Leveller (1991)
Back in the early 90’s, the underground had already woken up to Benediction’s brutal output – the release of debut album Subconscious Terror took care of that – but it was only when Dave Ingram took the place of the Napalm Death bound Barney Greenway that Benediction moved swiftly up the ranks. Benediction had found their man and an iron-lunged performance from one of the busiest men in modern death metal ironically elevated The Grand Leveller onto the same playing field as the likes of Obituary and Scream Bloody Gore era Death.
Channeling ominous mid-paced groove, manic tremolo riffing and Slayer-esque dynamics, Benediction stood out from an already overcrowded scene with their dark and twisted amalgamation of the work pioneered by their US counterparts and the boundary-shattering, extreme metal experiments associated with Sacrilege, Carcass and the aforementioned Napalm Death. The UK finally had a death metal band who could deliver the kind of chugging riffs and satisfying crunch to rival their transatlantic cousins and The Grand Leveller remains an apocalyptically heavy and oppressive excursion into pure evil.
While The Grand Leveller may not offer too much in the way of variety, what it continues to do is bludgeon the listener with an endless cycle of explicit violence. Dave Ingram’s vocals are as shockingly abrasive as ever and the torrent of head-bang inducing riffs conjured by Darren Brookes and Peter Rew still sound classic in construct but fresh and vital nonetheless.
Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)
Carcass truly proved their mettle on Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious, culminating in their finest hour and one of the defining moments in UK death metal history.
Managing to be both a prime slab of mutilated old-school death/grind and a pioneer of tech/progressive death metal, Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious blew fans and critics away on its release in 1991 and continues to be revered as a defining moment in death metal history (UK or otherwise).
With a new guitarist in the formidable shape of Mike Amott (Arch Enemy) adding layers to their sound, Carcass as a unit were obviously improving at a formidable rate with across-the-board performances proving exemplary and arguably never bettered. Each track was a mind-blowing cacophony of tempo-changes, melodic guitar leads, brutal riffing and Jeff Walkers instantly recognisable growls culminating in an extreme metal masterpiece.
UK death metal perfection? Not far from it!
Desecrator – Subconscious Release (1991)
Dan Seagrave cover art, a raw and aggressive sound, technicality matched by brutality; Desecrator’s Subconscious Release should have been huge! Instead, this cult item is merely a footnote in death metal history but it deserves to be held in considerable high regard for delivering a focused lesson in classic death metal violence.
Following a similar path travelled by Death (Leprosy-era) and Sweden’s Dismember, Desecrator’s groove heavy onslaught revelled in muscular, lengthy and, above all, catchy songwriting.
While a slight sense of repetition sneaks in when absorbing Subconscious Release in its entirety, the same accusation can be made of many a death metal album that bludgeoned the listener with ostensibly the same sound – Deicide being one of them – and nobody gave two shits!
Desecrator’s one and only album should have been enough to endear them to the masses as it’s an outstanding moment of UK death metal mastery; backed by a collection of expertly delivered death metal songs. Haven’t heard it? Go discover!
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 turned out, we 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!
Necrosanct – Incarnate (1992)
Proof that the UK did have bands that could deliver the filthiest sound of purist evil imaginable, Necrosanct’s Incarnate still sounds shockingly abrasive today.
Veering dangerously close to total pandemonium, Necrosanct fashioned a death metal album that made up in violence what it lacked in finesse. Brutal, in the strongest sense of the word, and designed for those who feasted on the sounds of hell made flesh, Incarnate is possibly the most timeless album on this list, as ferocious and unpredictable now as it was in 1992.
There’s something so utterly unhinged about the Martin Van Dunen (Pestilence) meets John Tardy (Obituary) vocals that sends Incarnate rushing headlong into the realms of madness.
Somehow, frontman Ant Ryan managed to take the tonality of Van Drunen and the unintelligible nature of Tardy’s animalistic gurgles and vomit up something even more disturbing. The result, when layered over Necrosanct’s blurred riffing, was nothing less than hell incarnate!
Impaler – Charnel Deity (1992)
Another band with just the one full-length album to their name, Impaler’s primitive blast of down-tuned riffing was ‘just’ another album in a sea of quality death metal releases in 1992; making the fact it sunk virtually without trace not particularly surprising.
That aside, Charnel Deity had much to offer including a deathly thrash attack that was second to none, oodles of shred, demonic vokills and a penchant for short sharp songs that were over and done with way before they outstayed their welcome. Not groundbreaking but efficient, effective and ebullient nonetheless!
Also, if the idea of hearing the main riff from Exodus’ “Impaler” ‘deathed’ up fills you with joy then wrap your lugholes around “Total Carnage”. No one say plagiarism!
Charnel Deity was simply old-school brutal UK death metal done right and belongs in the collection of anyone who digs the early albums of Death, Pestilence & Possessed.
Decomposed – Hope Finally Died (1993)
Admittedly, we’re in death/doom territory here but Decomposed‘s Hope Finally Died is the most absurdly overlooked album in death/doom history, and UK metal in general, and deserves to be highlighted at every given opportunity!
Deceptively simple, the beauty of this staggering release lay not in its musicality, nor its vocal prowess or even its songwriting nous. At face value, all these facets seemed relatively generic but the true reason this savagely under-appreciated cornerstone of death/doom deserved higher praise, is down to the almost unparalleled way in which Decomposed blended the mournful melancholy of doom with the caustic and cathartic blur of death metal aggression; each song unearthing a new spin on an already standard formula and expertly fusing sorrowful soliloquay’s with neck-breaking riffs.
Whether primitive old-school death metal savagery or shuffling excursions into doom metal’s swampy territory peels your onions, Decomposed’s one and only full length should be mandatory listening. Unearth its treasures and discover why Hope Finally Died… is not only a hidden gem but also a defining moment in UK death/doom metal history!
Monolith – Tales Of The Macabre (1993)
Obscure as fuck, Monolith recorded just the one full length album. But, when that one album is the almighty death/thrash opus Tales Of The Macabre, you’d better take heed!
A bit of history: Monolith began life in 1990 but under the guise of Catalepsy. After a swift name change in ’91, the band released their Sleep With the Dead EP before, supposedly, vanishing without a trace. However, Monolith actually recorded a full length album – titled Tales Of The Macabre – which was never released to the public, forever plunging it into obscurity!
Featuring extreme metal legend Nick Barker on drums (you know the chap, he of every important extreme metal band in existence!), you’d be forgiven for thinking this beast should be more well known.
And so it bloody well should be!
In 1993, Tales Of The Macabre was relatively brutal stuff – a little on the simple side perhaps – but still satisfyingly heavy and dripping with malevolence. Taking their cues from the eerie, otherworldly work of early Entombed and fellow countrymen Benediction, Monolith also embraced a death/doom approach, resulting in an album that offers variety and no end of bludgeoning power.
Why Tales Of The Macabre failed to secure a proper release is a mystery.
This shit slays!
Dark Heresy – Abstract Principles Taken to Their Logical Extremes (1995)
Like the death metal version of UK thrashers Sabbat, these anti-Christian pagans were a complete anomaly in their respective genre but, sadly, Dark Heresy’s lasting legacy boils down to just this one album.
But, what an album it is! With concepts as complex as their compositions, these avant-garde, progressive death metallers seemed to throw every single idea into the mix, culminating in a bewildering experience that managed to be both beautiful and brutal in the same breath.
Basically, Dark Heresy sounded like an unholy union between Carcass and Testimony Of The Ancients-era Pestilence (by way of The Mahavishnu Orchestra!), their approach to songwriting proving difficult to pin down but proving utterly unique nonetheless.
Warlord (UK) – Maximim Carnage (1996)
We’re pushing the old-school criteria here but 1996’s Maximum Carnage, the debut album from Warlord (UK), just about squeezes in and should have seen the band heralded as pillars of the UK death metal scene alongside the mighty Bolt Thrower, Benediction and Cancer.
Unfortunately, despite their obvious talents, Warlord (UK) arrived a little too late to the party to make a lasting impact. If released 4 years prior, an album that would have sent DM fans into a frenzy fell sadly by the wayside which is a considerable injustice.
A death/thrash behemoth that achieves more in 8 brutally succinct tracks than many death metal acts manage in their entire careers, this seriously ruthless shit came rammed with larynx-lacerating growls and more thrashy old school death metal riffs than you can fathom.
Building an insane amount of momentum, Maximum Carnage just gets better and better as the album progresses, culminating in the savagely sublime “Theatre Of Destruction” and “Race War”.
UK death metal then….pretty damn good after all!
If we’ve forgotten your favourite old-school UK death metal album we apologise profusely. Why not pop it in the comments section and we’ll have a right royal chinwag about it!