Death metal is great. Technical death metal is so much better!
To that end, we’ve selected 6 Of The Most Mind-Blowing Old-School Technical Death Metal Albums Ever Recorded…. with more to come!
Presented in order of year of release as opposed to any kind of ranking….
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.
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. And yes, we acknowledge that there’s often some debate around whether Atheist were technical thrash or technical death metal….well, we’re sticking with death metal, obviously.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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?!
The next chapter in this series is already in the works! However, that shouldn’t stop you from adding your favourite technical thrash albums to the comments below!
Check out The Worship Metal Podcast‘s delectable and demonically delicious death metal discussion….