As a general rule, the UK’s contribution to death metal gets glossed over in favour of the output of our American cousins (who’s contribution, to be fair, was revolutionary) but to overlook the UK’s considerable input would be foolish….at worst, it’s bloody sacrilege!
So, Worship Metal has cast its eye back to a time when old-school UK death metal was producing some truly outstanding releases but take note, we’re talking old school here, so strictly early to mid 1990’s only!
In other words, don’t go crying your self to sleep on your snot-stained pillow just because Bolt Thrower‘s 2005 classic Those Once Loyal isn’t included!!
Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption (1990)
Take a trip to Morrisound Recording studios and this is what you get….pure early 90’s death metal genius from a band who’d already revolutionised grindcore with their 2 previous releases!
Napalm Death’s Mentally Murdered EP had already indicated a change was coming but few could have predicted Napalm’s wholesale embrace of death metal. Roping in soon to be scene legends John Tardy (Obituary) and Glen Benton (Deicide) made it pretty clear that death was the order of the day and their contribution to “Unfit Earth” signalled a union between giants of the genre.
In purely death metal terms, the band would never fully capture again such a dense wall of death and while Harmony Corruption could be accused of being a meat ‘n’ potatoes kind of release (especially when compared to the majority of Napalm Death’s back catalogue), that would be missing the point.
This was death metal in 1990!
Cancer – To The Gory End (1990)
It was a close call between 1990’s To The Gory End and 1991’s Death Shall Rise for inclusion here but it’s Cancer’s grisly debut that holds a naive charm and exemplifies the joy in streamlined, straight to the point and deadly simplistic death metal!
With more than just a little thrash in Cancer’s sound, the band truly excelled when delivering evil strains that rejected technicality in favour of an endless sea of effortlessly brutal riffing. This was seriously nasty stuff and the likes of “Cancer Fucking Cancer” were as distasteful as they sound. Fortunately, each track came laced with endless head-crushing riffs making this a mandatory album for those ‘in the know’ in the early 90’s.
Like an unidentified killer burying a machete deep in the back of your head, Cancer’s iconic debut never missed, it never faltered and it never pretended to be anything but a merciless killing machine….right through to the gory end!
Benediction – The Grand Leveller (1991)
Back in the early 90’s, the underground had already woken up to Benediction’s brutal output – the release of debut album Subconscious Terror took care of that – but it was only when Dave Ingram took the place of the Napalm Death bound Barney Greenway that Benediction moved swiftly up the ranks. Benediction had found their man and an iron-lunged performance from one of the busiest men in modern death metal ironically elevated The Grand Leveller onto the same playing field as the likes of Obituary and Scream Bloody Gore era Death.
Channeling ominous mid-paced groove, manic tremolo riffing and Slayer-esque dynamics, Benediction stood out from an already overcrowded scene with their dark and twisted amalgamation of the work pioneered by their US counterparts and the boundary-shattering, extreme metal experiments associated with Sacrilege, Carcass and the aforementioned Napalm Death. The UK finally had a death metal band who could deliver the kind of chugging riffs and satisfying crunch to rival their transatlantic cousins and The Grand Leveller remains an apocalyptically heavy and oppressive excursion into pure evil.
While The Grand Leveller may not offer too much in the way of variety, what it continues to do is bludgeon the listener with an endless cycle of explicit violence. Dave Ingram’s vocals are as shockingly abrasive as ever and the torrent of head-bang inducing riffs conjured by Darren Brookes and Peter Rew still sound classic in construct but fresh and vital nonetheless.
Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)
Carcass truly proved their mettle on Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious, culminating in their finest hour and one of the defining moments in UK death metal history.
Managing to be both a prime slab of mutilated old-school death/grind and a pioneer of tech/progressive death metal, Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious blew fans and critics away on its release in 1991 and continues to be revered as a defining moment in death metal history (UK or otherwise).
With a new guitarist in the formidable shape of Mike Amott (Arch Enemy) adding layers to their sound, Carcass as a unit were obviously improving at a formidable rate with across-the-board performances proving exemplary and arguably never bettered. Each track was a mind-blowing cacophony of tempo-changes, melodic guitar leads, brutal riffing and Jeff Walkers instantly recognisable growls culminating in an extreme metal masterpiece.
UK death metal perfection? Not far from it!
Desecrator – Subconscious Release (1991)
Dan Seagrave cover art, a raw and aggressive sound, technicality matched by brutality; Desecrator’s Subconscious Release should have been huge! Instead, this cult item is merely a footnote in death metal history but it deserves to be held in considerable high regard for delivering a focused lesson in classic death metal violence.
Following a similar path travelled by Death (Leprosy-era) and Sweden’s Dismember, Desecrator’s groove heavy onslaught revelled in muscular, lengthy and, above all, catchy songwriting.
While a slight sense of repetition sneaks in when absorbing Subconscious Release in its entirety, the same accusation can be made of many a death metal album that bludgeoned the listener with ostensibly the same sound – Deicide being one of them – and nobody gave two shits!
Desecrator’s one and only album should have been enough to endear them to the masses as it’s an outstanding moment of UK death metal mastery; backed by a collection of expertly delivered death metal songs. Haven’t heard it? Go discover!
Bolt Thrower – War Master (1991)
Bolt Thrower, oh how we miss you!
Let’s face it you could take your pick from their first 4 groundbreaking albums and all would sit proudly here. As it turned out, we settled on 1991’s War Master, Bolt Thrower’s first pure death metal release (any evidence of grindcore now jettisoned) and a bone-fide death metal classic.
The UK may not have been as prolific as the U.S in the death metal stakes but we did produce arguably its greatest band – the mighty and magnificent Bolt Thrower – and War Master signalled a band who were ready to take on the big guns of the scene.
Karl Willets vocals were deadly yet distinctive – a voice that would become one of the most recognisable in death metal – while the band outclassed themselves with a more considered approach to their deathly bludgeoning. Slowing down and embracing a keener ear for melody, the likes of “Cenotaph” and “What Dwells Within” were juggernauts, smashing and crashing their way into your head-space with glimpses of thrash and doom hidden within their DNA.
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.
Masters of War!