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…..and these are the death metal DEBUTS that kickstarted a revolution!
10. D.V.C – Descendant Upheaval (1989) [USA]
a.k.a. Darth Vader’s Church, D.V.C’s debut, Descendant Upheaval, may be somewhat of an obscurity but its merits are writ large over 44 minutes of unrelenting savagery.
Taking its cues from early Bolt Thrower (circa In Battle There Is No Law), these Floridian upstarts hit hard with an onslaught of cavernously catchy riffs and throaty howls.
While D.V.C‘s relatively simple bludgeoning may sound antiquated to modern ears, Descendant Upheaval was actually at the forefront of death metal in the late 80’s; playing a vital role in enabling the genre to finally shake off the shackles of thrash once and for all.
Descendant Upheaval is a death metal debut that’s as underrated as all hell!
9. Sepultura – Morbid Visions (1986) [Brazil]
Yeah, yeah, Sepultura aren’t death metal we hear some of you cry but there’s a school of thought that decrees Morbid Visions as the first death metal album. And who are we to argue with that?!
A primitive blast of extreme metal made before terms for this kind of racket had fully bedded in, Sepultura‘s rabid mix of thrash, proto-death and proto-black metal may have been sloppy…..but it could not be ignored!
The epitome of youthful exuberance, Morbid Visions simply tapped into Sepultura‘s desire to create a satanic shit-storm of charred metallic noise in the vein of Venom and let fly, with crusty blackened thrashers such as the fiery “Crucifixion” pushing as many buttons as Sepultura could manage.
With “Troops of Doom” (later re-recorded for 1987’s Schizophrenia) hinting at the genius to come, the rest of Morbid Visions may be messy but it retains its raw and rudimentary early death metal charm.
8. Necrophagia – Season Of The Dead (1987) [USA]
A truly overlooked classic and a monumental moment in death metal’s infancy, Season Of The Dead is a pioneering record that took a proto-death approach to extreme music; one masterminded by scene legend and vocalist Killjoy.
With an emphasis on atmosphere over speed and technical prowess, Season Of The Dead is a Slasher film set to music, relentlessly evil and thrillingly effective. Surprisingly, melody – not a generic term used to describe death metal – plays an integral part with the riffs often adopting a mid-paced chug as opposed to all-out attack. That’s not to say that Necrophagia didn’t know how to quicken the pace – moments on “Mental Decay” combined the two styles perfectly – while “Abomination” remains a thrashy slice of morbid malevolence.
Season Of The Dead was a unique, splatter-saturated ode to horror and stands bloodied and proud as a defining moment in the evolution of death metal.
7. Bolt Thrower – In Battle There Is No Law! (1988) [UK]
Crusty ol’ grinders Bolt Thrower certainly laid down the law with their uncompromisingly raw debut, In Battle There Is No Law!
A crushing mix of crust punk, grindcore, hardcore and death metal, Bolt Thrower‘s debut was vicious, implacable, socio-politically charged and noticeably faster, and certainly less polished, than the albums that followed it…but it was no less convincing because of it. In fact, In Battle There Is No Law! was a sonic storm of unparalleled brutality and savagery when compared to much of what called itself ‘death metal’ in 1988. Just give the title track a spin and try denying that Bolt Thrower, for a short while there, were the heaviest band on the fuckin’ planet.
1989’s Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, 1991’s War Master and 2005’s Those Once Loyal may take all the plaudits (let’s be honest, Bolt Thrower never put out a bad album but these are most definitely highlights) but In Battle There Is No Law! was where it all began. And it began with one hell of a bang.
Hail Bolt Thrower!
6. Possessed – Seven Churches (1985) [USA]
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’s 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 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.