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80s American Death Metal: The 5 Greatest Albums

American death metal may have conquered the world in the 1990’s but it was spawned in the 1980’s…and it shook the metal world with its uncompromising stance on how ‘heavy’ metal could really be!

Presented in alphabetical order as opposed to ranking….

Autopsy – Severed Survival (1989)

Album Severed Survival (20th Anniversary Edition), Autopsy | Qobuz:  download and streaming in high quality

The thickest, most putrid sound of death imaginable was at the very core of Autopsy’s debut masterpiece, the incomprehensibly evil sounding Severed Survival.

Wallowing in the kind of muddy riffs that submerge the senses, Severed Survival bucked the prevailing death metal trends of playing faster and playing harder and instead upped the brutality by slowing …. things …. right….down.

In turn, Autopsy did hit harder, announcing themselves as the go-to death metal band for those who sought variation to go along with their gore. There was still speed when speed was required of course,but the impact was greater due to the lumbering riffs that often preceded furious bursts of noise.

When 80s death metal was at it’s freshest and during it’s most enticing and exciting period, Autopsy dragged the genre back down in the gutter, to writhe in the decaying mass of human existence. Which is exactly where it belonged!

Death – Leprosy (1988)

Death – Leprosy (1988, CD) - Discogs

Emerging at a time when death metal was still barely in nappies, Leprosy was the next logical step after the neanderthal bludgeoning of Scream Bloody Gore had laid waste to thrash back in 1987.

Notably progressive when compared to Death‘s solid debut, the late, great, Chuck Schuldiner upped the ante in every department on this sophomore effort.

With a vast improvement in songwriting, Death were already leaving their peers in the dust, and Leprosy‘s 8 tracks of sublime brutality arguably defined the genre before it had even begun.

Quite simply an album whose importance to death metal cannot be underestimated.

Death‘s debut, Scream Bloody Gore, deserves a mention – and tracks such as “Infernal Death”, “Zombie Ritual” and “Regurgitated Guts” have gone down in death metal folklore as classics of the genre – but it’s inferior to Leprosy; and there’s only room for 5 albums in this list!

Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989)

Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1994, CD) - Discogs

Altars Of Madness is arguably the pinnacle of death metal (never mind 80’s death metal) and remains one of the finest extreme albums ever conceived.

Chuck Schuldiner and Death may have popularised the genre but Morbid Angel chrystalised 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.

Obituary – Slowly We Rot (1989)

OBITUARY - Slowly we rot LP Music on vinyl | Sslsw Test Shop

An album that shit directly in the gawping face of thrash, Obituary‘s shocking and seminal debut was the sound of death metal fully realising its unlimited capabilities.

Led by John Tardy’s iconic growls, howls and innumerable gargled noises, Slowly We Rot simply took the noise made by the likes of Possessed, Death and Necrophagia and wrung ten gallons of filth out of it; creating one of the most disgusting debut albums in extreme metal history in the process.

Unrelenting and as ugly as sin, this was the sound of a band determined to take extremity to another level and to say this debut was shocking would be to do it a considerable disservice.

Slowly We Rot is quite rightly revered as an all time 80s death metal classic and is, arguably, the finest album of Obituary’s illustrious career.

Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)

Possessed – Seven Churches (1985, Vinyl) - Discogs

Possessed‘s debut album, Seven Churches, pre-dates death metal and subsequently takes the majority of its influences from established genres of the era – notably speed and thrash metal – but, without it, death metal may never have taken form and must be considered a definitive release in the history of the genrel.

Released 2 years prior to Death’Scream Bloody GorePossessed took a cut and paste approach to their music by incorporating the viciousness of Venom, the speed of Motörheadand the thrashing, atonal guitars of early Exodus and Slayer, eventually stumbling upon an innovative and primitive sound which allied thrash and what would become death metal like no one else before them.

“The Exorcist”, “Burning In Hell” and “Seven Churches” are held together by Jeff Becerra’s unholy roar, simultaneously aping Lemmy from Motörhead yet producing a guttural tone that would go on to be the bread and butter of death metal.

Possessed take the honour of inventing death metal on their debut album. This ‘fact’ is constantly up for debate but we’re standing by it; no Seven Churches, no death metal.

About Chris Jennings (1986 Articles)
I love metal. Always have. Always will. As editor of Worship Metal - a site dedicated to being as positive about metal and its myriad of sub-genres as possible - my aim is to 'worship' metal through honest reviews, current news and a wide variety of features; offering the same exposure to underground bands as we do to mainstream/well known acts. Our mantra; the bands are partners and we exist to serve the bands \m/

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