These 5 releases are absolute death metal perfection and albums we simply can’t live without.
And remember, this is just Part 1…. there’s loads more in this series to come!
Presented in alphabetical order as opposed to any sort of ranking….
Bolt Thrower – War Master (1991) [UK]
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.
Entombed – Left Hand Path (1990) [Sweden]
Entombed may have only been in their late teens when they released this seminal work, but their youth was no reflection on the game-changing, buzzsaw noise that erupted from their fetid, putrid pool of groove and gore.
Brandishing a guitar-tone that sounded like a chainsaw cutting a swathe through decaying corpses, Entombed initially shouldered the burden of channelling Sweden’s endless pool of creativity and created an instant classic at the very first attempt!
While the influence of anarcho-punk pioneers Discharge can clearly be heard, this was an album that entered the new decade with nothing but nihilism and a new dawn on its mind. D-Beat repetition may have been an inspiration but Entombed were so much more than just mere plagiarists. Each track on Left Hand Path takes on a deathly life of its own, from the thrashing belligerence of “Revel In Flesh“, to the glorious grooves of “When Life Has Ceased” and on to the Satan-summoning “Premature Autopsy” in an exhilarating and enthralling 45 minutes.
The albums piece de resistance though is the eponymous, opening track itself, an epic masterpiece which should be heralded as one of death metal’s most breathtaking songs. It’s not often that a band can harness the entire power of their sound on the opening song of their debut album – Black Sabbath are one of the few to manage it – and “Left Hand Path” is the death metal equivalent of that heavy metal milestone.
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989) [USA]
Altars Of Madness is arguably the pinnacle of death metal and one of the finest extreme albums ever conceived. Chuck and Death may have popularised the genre but Morbid Angel crystallised it, gave it a complete and recognisable identity and produced one of the greatest albums in metal history in the process.
How songs with this much groove could be performed in such a non-standard manner still blows minds.
Here were unconventional musicians, unafraid, challenging preconceptions and embracing the extreme and yet somehow composing music that invites rather than repels; each track lingers long in the mind and although “Immortal Rites”, “Visions From The Dark Side” and “Evil Spells” are highlights, the entire album is utterly indispensable.
Altars of Madness captured the souls of millions of newly converted death metal fanatics and the flood gates were well and truly open; death metal had arrived……and we still can’t imagine life without it!
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse (1989) [Netherlands]
Pestilence‘s debut, Malleus Maleficarum, was a thrash album in essence but their sophomore album, Consuming Impulse, was a death metal album through and through….and proved to be a key moment in death metal’s rampaging evolution.
Raw, honest, powerful and confident, Pestilence fashioned a collection of exemplary death metal songs built on a solid foundation of inventive riffs, atonal solos and Martin van Drunen’s recognisably unhinged howls.
Songs such as “Dehydrated”, “Suspended Animation” and “Out of the Body” have become part of the death metal lexicon and while Pestilence were already exhibiting much of the technicality that would go on to inform their later efforts, Consuming Impulse was still very much focused on delivering the heaviest, most brutal death metal around.
Consuming Impulse was simply Pestilence at their most ferocious and has gone down in history as both a classic of the genre and Pestilence‘s finest ever release!
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten (1991) [USA]
In 1991, Suffocation weren’t just beyond brutal, they were another beast entirely! 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, brought 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!