5. Incantation – Onward To Golgotha (1992) [USA]
Dark, evil and deliciously demonic, Incantation’s debut was the sound of descending into the wretched bowels of hell made flesh; unrelenting, extreme and as disturbing as a pit full of contorted, flesh-stripped bodies.
Revelling in sludgy, misanthropic malice, Onward To Golgotha is a masterpiece of doomy, dirge-ridden disease and should go down in history as one of the dirtiest sounding death metal records ever to released.
If Incantation’s modus operandi was to disturb and disgust then they should consider themselves 100% effective. In the annals of death metal few can live up to this sick blast of grandiose extremity and in a genre where it can be notoriously difficult to stand out from the pack, Incantation’s diabolical debut elevated them to the upper echelons of the scene.
4. Demigod – Slumber Of Sullen Eyes [Finland]
In 1992, Finnish death metallers Demigod may have released their debut album, Slumber Of Sullen Eyes, to little fanfare but this album’s reputation has grown substantially over the years, and is now revered as one of the most chillingly atmospheric, morbidly dark and fiendishly melodic death metal albums of the early 90’s!
Demigod didn’t adhere to the crushing, buzzsaw brutality of their Nordic cousins and, instead, they adopted a more nuanced style informed by diversity, doom-influences and a characteristically Finnish low-end which rumbles so effectively as to induce involuntary bowel movements.
Each track on this beast is decidedly distinct and delivers the kind of depth not usually associated with death metal. While heavy as all hell, it’s the sombre melodies and intricate interplay – which incorporates everything from tremolo riffing to Bolt Thrower-esque groove – which marks out Slumber Of Sullen Eyes as a cult item and an all-time death metal classic.
3. Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten (1991) [USA]
In 1991, Suffocation were beyond brutal, they were another beast entirely and 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 bringing 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 groundbreaking 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.
2. Immolation – Dawn Of Possession (1991) [USA]
The word ‘classic’ gets bandied around with alarming regularity (and we’re as guilty as the next blog) but there’s no other way to describe a moment in extreme metal history that continues to surpass 99.9% of all death metal out there.
We refer, of course, to Immolation’s awe-inspiring debut album, Dawn Of Possession. Released today this would still blow minds but as it stands, Dawn Of Possession is a time-capsule that perfectly encapsulates the experimental inventiveness of early 90’s death metal….a time when anything seemed possible and the idea of ‘heavy’ was being routinely challenged.
These New York natives were darkness incarnate and blessed (or should that be possessed) with some of the most sinister and hauntingly disharmonic riffs in the then fledgling genre. They were beyond heavy, they were the sound of demonic armageddon and their ever-threatening grooves and chromatic displays of precision riffing were the next logical step in death metal’s evolution.
1. 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 shouldered the burden of channeling 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 metal milestone.
Left Hand Path is a legendary release from a band who steamrolled the gates of hell on their own path to infamy; definitive in every sense of the word.
Also in this series: