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 15 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.
Annihilational Intercention, Hellwitch‘s first album in 14 years, was released on June 3rd, 2023 via Listenable Records – go check it out!
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!
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.
Hymns from the Apocrypha, the latest album from Suffocation, was released on November 3rd, 2023 via Nuclear Blast – go check it out!
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!
Polluted Inheritance – Ecocide [Netherlands] (1992)
Largely forgotten and sorely underrated, Dutch death metal masters Polluted Inheritance arrived fully formed in 1992 with a debut album that could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Death’s Human!
That’s quite the statement but Ecocide is quite the album.
With comprehensible growls (although, admittedly, not always great lyrics) backed up by sterling musicians navigating their way through complex, yet catchy, structures, this album is easily the equal of any album presenting itself as technical death metal in the early 90’s.
A blisteringly fast lesson in aggression, speed, progression, dynamics and fantastically crafted death metal, Ecocide demands to be heard!
Demilich – Nespithe [Finland] (1993)
A true oddity and an album that sounds like no other, Demilich‘s Nespithe took the world completely by surprise when its cavernous compositions and Antti Boman’s ultra, ultra low gutturals instantly marked them out as technical death metal innovators!
The sounds that emanated from these crazy Finns were otherworldly; tentacled and slimy like a Lovecraftian nightmare made audibly flesh with bass lines and riffs slithering amongst each other without ever actually making contact. The result was an altogether alien experience that shouldn’t have worked but somehow came together to deliver one of the most unique moments in death metal history.
Surrealistic and as bewildering as it was on release, Nespithe may be the only album released by Demilich but it sure as hell left an indelible mark on the technical death metal landscape.
Gorguts – The Erosion Of Sanity [Canada] (1993)
In hindsight, Gorguts‘ debut album, Considered Dead, was a rather meat n’ potatoes death metal release. In comparison though, their sophomore release, The Erosion Of Sanity, was the first true indication of the colossal avant-garde genius that would arrive later in the decade via 1998’s bewildering Obscura. But, for now, they were a band bravely forging their own path with the progressively-minded, technically-savvy, The Erosion Of Sanity.
Both tenacious and terrifying, Gorguts mastermind Luc Lemay was already unleashing unsettling rhythms on an unsuspecting death metal audience with just his second release, and the intricate, powerful riffing of “Condemned to Obscurity” still has the ability to promote shock and awe to this very day.
With Luc Lemay already utilising his now trademarked anguished roar to full effect, it was left to The Erosion Of Sanity‘s intricate interplay (with pinched harmonics and unexpected time shifts aplenty) to do the talking. Suffice to say, we were all listening with gratefully open – yet brutally savaged – ears!
Section Brain – Hospital Of Death [Czechia] (1993)
Despite a strong Sepultura vibe circa Beneath The Remains, Czechia’s Section Brain are seemingly known only to those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure metal. Which is a crying shame as their one and only album, 1993’s Hospital Of Death, is a certifiable technical death/thrash cult classic!
At only 5 tracks (we’re ignoring the pointless 30 second intro and the odd 7 seconds of “Ja Mamm”), Section Brain were pushing the boundaries of acceptability when it came to classifying this as a full length album….but when “No Anarchy” drops, you’ll care not a jot! Deceptively simple at first encounter, this epic quickly expands into a track with a multitude of tones and flavours; an adage which relates to the entirety of the album.
With so many riffs on this thing, Section Brain probably could of saved a few and released a follow-up but, alas, it wasn’t to be. Instead, revel in Hospital of Death’s obscurity, soak up its intricacy and tell everyone you know to check out this underrated gem of early 90’s technical death/thrash.
Violent Dirge – Elapse [Poland] (1993)
These Polish deviants were as technically audacious and brutally aggressive as they come and Violent Dirge‘s debut album, Elapse, remains uniformly impressive and informed by raw technical death metal riffing, erratic solos, jazzy bass-lines and dirty vocals.
With songs that resisted the urge to out-widdle their peers and instead concentrated on displaying their prowess via a terrifying jolt of good old fashioned death metal, Elapse remains a masterclass in balancing audacity and aggression and, it should be said, the bass playing on this beast truly has to be heard to be believed!
A forgotten masterpiece from a truly talented band.
Cryptopsy – Blasphemy Made Flesh [Canada] (1994)
None So Vile will always be Cryptopsy‘s masterpiece but, as it came out in 1996, it’s excluded from this particular list….so you get their outstanding debut, Blasphemy Made Flesh, instead. You lucky bastards, you!
Already teetering on the edge of brutal death metal, Blasphemy Made Flesh instantly marked out Cryptopsy’s stall as ultra aggressive, technically gifted madmen – with Lord Worm’s vocals and Flo Mounier’s drumming already tailor made to impress, this devastating double act carried much of Blasphemy Made Flesh‘s considerable weight.
A relentless barrage of inhuman noises, percussive cacophony, sinister groove and brutality incarnate awaits the uninitiated, while those in the know fully understand what a devastatingly effective and impressive debut this album was!
As Gomorrah Burns, the latest album from Cryptopsy was released on September 8th, 2023 via Nuclear Blast – go check it out!
Dissonance – Look To Forget [Slovakia] (1994)
Pissing about with time signatures is one thing, but being able to hone such dexterous tomfoolery into brutal yet consistently interesting songs is another thing entirely; and a ridiculously difficult balancing act to master. Which is where Slovakia’s Dissonance come in.
Astoundingly savage and mesmerisingly complex they may have been, but Dissonance were savvy enough to conjure magic from their madness. Weird when they wanted to be – check out the spoken word outro to “Invisible” – and heavy as sin when it suited (the more mid-tempo barrage of “Candid Condolence” will rupture your bowels), Dissonance‘s genius lay in their ever-increasing bouts of sonic savagery laced with subtle melody.
Whatever you do, do NOT forget Dissonance‘s astonishing debut!
Honourable mention: While we’re on the very niche subject of Slovakian technical death metal, we’d be remiss not to mention Systems (1995), the outstanding demo from Mordum.
Oppressor – Solstice Of Oppression [USA] (1994)
Perfectly balancing brutality with technical audacity and pioneering verve, Oppressor‘s Solstice Of Oppression remains an early to mid 90’s milestone of technical death metal without ever receiving the accolades afforded to Death’s Human, Cynic’s Focus and Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence etc.
An accomplishment easily equal to all the classic albums listed above, Solstice of Oppression carved its own particular niche with ultra low gutturals, unyielding brutality and the melodic, experimental, progressive and jazzy influences expected of a 90’s progressive / technical death metal album.
Once you get over the fact that this band eventually became nu-metal chart-botherers Soil (with Oppressor’s Tim King, Tom Schofield and Adam Zadel recruiting Broken Hope’s Shaun Glass in the late 90’s), you’ll be confronted by an album which defines the very nature of 90’s tech death – a shining example of metal evolving at an alarming rate without forsaking its core principles!
Pavor – A Pale Debilitating Autumn [Germany] (1994)
Released just as ‘old-school death metal’ was reaching its nadir, Pavor‘s A Pale Debilitating Autumn should be revered as one of the most – if not the most – astoundingly complex death metal releases of the early to mid 90’s!
Show-off’s from the get-go, Pavor appeared obsessed with challenging death metal fans with their stunning musical dexterity matched by such supremely tight and concise songs. While their ‘contemporaries’ were attempting to meld a jazz-fusion-esque aesthetic to their death metal template (such as Pestilence with the otherworldly Spheres and Atheist with Unquestionable Presence), Pavor were still very much a straight-up death metal band; just one with more skill and ideas than most!
An album of such astounding brutality and complexity, even if Pavor had released A Pale Debilitating Autumn at the turn of the new century, they’d still have turned heads with such a forward-thinking, ground-breaking release. We can’t possibly praise it anymore than that now, can we?!