Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious [UK]
Another UK band to dump grindcore in favour of a (slightly) more accessible death metal sound, 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 Walker’s instantly recognisable growls culminated in an extreme metal masterpiece for the ages.
Immolation – Dawn Of Possession [USA]
The word classic gets bandied around with alarming regularity of late (and we’re as guilty as the next blog) but there’s no other way to describe a moment in extreme metal history that continues to surpass 99.9% of all death metal out there. We refer, of course, to Immolation’s awe-inspiring debut album, Dawn Of Possession. Released today this would still blow minds but as it stands, Dawn Of Possession is a time-capsule that perfectly encapsulates the experimental inventiveness of early 90’s death metal….a time when anything seemed possible and the idea of ‘heavy’ was being routinely challenged.
These New York natives were darkness incarnate and blessed (or should that be possessed) with some of the most sinister and hauntingly disharmonic riffs in the then fledgling genre. They were beyond heavy, they were the sound of demonic armageddon and their ever-threatening grooves and chromatic displays of precision riffing were the next logical step in death metal’s evolution.
Immolation may have evolved into an ever more technical wrecking machine over the years but Dawn Of Possession is home to their most vivid collection of twisted tunes
Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick [USA]
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.
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence [USA]
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 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.
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten [USA]
In 1991, Suffocation were beyond brutal, they were another beast entirely!
Effigy Of The Forgotten must have come as quite the shellshock to the uninitiated, with 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 groundbreaking 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.
Asphyx – The Rack [Netherlands]
After leaving Pestilence in the early 1990s, Martin van Drunen joined Asphyx and a new Dutch giant of death metal (with a little doom added in for good measure) was born!
Asphyx‘s debut album, The Rack, may have taken a different approach to the more technically minded bands of the era by embracing death/doom but they were no less ferocious because of it.
Asphyx‘s d-beat approach to death metal wallowed in muck and favoured an economical delivery over all-out blasting. The result was an album that immediately stood out from the pack and with songs such as Vermin” and “Diabolical Existence” in it’s arsenal, The Rack was never going to fail.
Cancer – Death Shall Rise [UK]
Aside from Bolt Thrower and Carcass, the UK’s death metal contribution was never particularly lauded and yet the likes of Cancer – and particularly their sophomore album, Death Shall Rise – were equal to anything arriving from the States and showcased a band whose firm grasp on death/thrash was second to none.
It can’t be a coincidence that the arrival of ex-Obituary / ex-Death guitarist James Murphy saw Cancer taking huge strides forward from their rough and ready debut with opener “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” instantly heralding itself as an all time classic. Roping in Deicide‘s Glen Benton also lent them a certain cache but Cancer weren’t really in need of special guests to get their point across; the frenzied thrashing of “Burning Casket” and the no-nonsense onslaught of “Corpse Fire” was convincing enough!
The epitome of a cult classic.
Grave – Into The Grave [Sweden]
Agonisingly aggressive one minute, irresistibly groovy the next, Grave have always been the (relatively) unsung heroes of Swedish death metal’s pioneering generation, despite their initial contributions rivalling the early works of Unleashed, Edge Of Sanity and Cemetary!
As pure as they come – and stunningly effective without being labelled ‘simple – Into The Grave‘s ever-undulating, meaty grooves and guttural growls immediately had an impact, with the sheer commitment in which they were delivered indisputable and, often, unrivalled.
“Deformed” and the title track are the acknowledged classics, ably the supplying the well crafted, blue-collar-esque, foundations on which Swedish death metal was built.
Benediction – The Grand Leveller [UK]
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 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.
In Benediction, 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.
Desecrator – Subconscious Release [UK]
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!