1990 finally saw death metal staking its claim as the new dominant force in metal and with genre classics challenging the very notion of extreme music – and giving thrash metal something to be worried about – it was clear that death metal had truly arrived!
5. Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption [UK]
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 Death’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!
4. Deicide – Deicide [USA]
Deicide’s debut is a true classic of the genre, completely devoid of mercy and intent on bludgeoning its blasphemous rhetoric over your head until you submit…it’s fuckin’ brilliant in other words.
With a terrifyingly tight approach to satanic slaughter, Deicide unleashed insane blastbeats, demonic growls, howls, screeches and barks and riffs that were creative, coruscating and as fiery as Hell itself.
Classic follows classic as “Lunatic Of God’s Creation”, “Sacrificial Suicide”, “Dead By Dawn” and “Carnage In The Temple Of The Damned” blur into a swirling vortex of noise and religion-despising diatribes. The bands commitment to causing offence remains completely believable – and generally disturbing – as vocalist Glen Benton channels demonic possession to the point of lascivious lunacy.
3. Nocturnus – The Key [USA]
When Mike Browning was unceremoniously set adrift from an early-era Morbid Angel, his answer was to return with a band whose identity was just as unique as the more famous band he’d originally helped engineer.
Nocturnus released their debut in 1990 and while most death metal bands of that era peered down into the bowels of hell for inspiration, Nocturnus looked to the skies and conjured a sci-fi masterpiece of progressive death metal which possibly gleamed with space-age shine and technical efficiency.
Not only were Nocturnus a rarity in having a drummer as a vocalist they also pioneered the use of keyboards in death metal, a brave move but one that immeasurably adds to the otherworldly atmosphere and originality of this unique death metal release.
2. Obituary – Cause Of Death [USA]
As opposed to playing at lightning speed, Obituary were one of the few bands to slow down and still maintain death metal’s recognisable ferocity.
John Tardy’s vocals dominated as he belched, growled and summoned a legion of agonised sounds from his larynx to provide Obituary with their most unique feature. Not that the music on this old-school epic is anything but punishing, the arrival of guitar-legend James Murphy (for this one release only) perpetrated its own rewards as the band launched into a series of slowly decaying anthems.
“Chopped In Half” and “Find The Arise” bring the speed and “Dying” and the title-track often slow to a zombified crawl, the perfect juxtaposition of Obituary’s sound; one which embraces no light and a whole lot of shade.
Completely devoid of hope, Cause Of Death is a hauntingly bleak record which retains it’s ability to appall and enthral in equal measure.
1. Entombed – Left Hand Path [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:
Check out The Worship Metal Podcast‘s Death Metal discussion….