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The 10 Greatest Death Metal Albums Of The 1980’s

Sheer class!

Autopsy – Severed Survival (1989) [USA]

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!


Bolt Thrower – Realms Of Chaos : Slaves To Darkness (1989) [UK]

Bolt Thrower – Realm Of Chaos (Slaves To Darkness) (2002, CD) - Discogs

The UK may have been relatively slow on the death metal uptake, (we were concentrating on establishing grindcore though, so don’t hold it against us), but Bolt Thrower were the one anomaly…..and they would turn out to be one of the most vital bands in death metal history.

While debut In Battle There Is No Law! was more crusty grind than death metal, 1989’s Realms Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness was the real deathly deal!

Sure, elements of grindcore remained but this monster of an album was built on the heaviest grooves heard at the time and the unholy roar of Karl Willets; a combination that takes some beating to this very day!

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.


Possessed – Seven Churches (1985) [USA]

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 death metal.

Released 2 years prior to Death’Scream Bloody Gore, Possessed took a cut and paste approach to their music by incorporating the viciousness of Venom, the speed of Motörhead and the thrashing, atonal guitars of early Exodus and Slayer, eventually stumbling upon an innovative and primitive sound which allied thrash and death 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.


Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989) [USA]

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.

Honourable mentions: We’d be remiss not to acknowledge the early works of such pioneering acts as Venom, Post Mortem, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Dark Angel, Slaughter, Carcass, Blood, Opprobrium (aka Incubus), Extreme Noise Terror, Dead Horse, Terrorizer, Messiah, Sepultura, Defecation, Epidemic, Sacrifice, Sadus, Napalm Death, Protector, Vulcano, Repulsion, Dream Death, Loudblast and Kreator, all of whom had a major part to play in the ongoing evolution of 80s death metal, without ever releasing a bona fide ‘death metal’ album in that era.

About Chris Jennings (1756 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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