With scene leaders adapting and transforming the very fabric of death metal in an attempt to one-up the previous years achievements, 1991 was always going to be a special year for death metal.
The result was a glut of material that shook the foundations of death metal to its core and culminated in the greatest year the genre has ever witnessed…..
5. Carcass – Necroticisim – Descanting the Insalubrious [UK]
Dumping grindcore in favour of a (slightly) more accessible death metal sound, 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 Walker’s instantly recognisable growls culminated in an extreme metal masterpiece for the ages.
4. Death – Human [USA]
Chuck Schuldiner changed the landscape he originally helped to mould when Death released Human in 1991.
Out went the gore and in came the intelligence, Chuck dismissing the lump-headed violence of old and embracing an introspective, humanistic approach. Backed up by a formidable death metal supergroup in its own right, Chuck and guitarist Paul Masvidal (Cynic), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Autopsy, Testament, Iced Earth) and drummer Sean Reinhart (Cynic) changed the face of death metal overnight and, alongside the influence of Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence and Pestilence’s Testimony Of The Ancients, birthed a new breed of technical, progressive death metal.
Death’s flawless freedom of expression floored the majority of their peers with “Flattening Of Emotions”, “Lack Of Comprehension” and “Vacant Planets” particularly showcasing the diversity each band member bought to the table. Flurries of frenzied riffs and intricate bass and drum work competed with jazz-fusion passages of improvisation while still maintaining the backbone of death metal; these were songs you could philosophise over while still head-banging to your head fell off
3. Immolation – Dawn Of Possession [USA]
The word ‘classic’ gets bandied around with alarming regularity of late (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.
Immolation may have evolved into an ever more technical wrecking machine over the years but Dawn Of Possession is home to their most vivid collection of twisted tunes
2. Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten [USA]
Where the fuck did this come from?!
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
1. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence [USA]
The finest progressive death metal album ever conceived? We certainly think so and with Unquestionable Presence, Atheist transformed the death metal landscape in a blitzkrieg of technical bass lines, dissonant and warped riffs unaccustomed to generic structure and an almost improvised feel to Steve Flynn’s commanding drumming.
Led by Kelly Schaefer’s rasp-inflected growl, the primitive nature of death metal was dissolved overnight within a framework of challenging lyricism and even more challenging musicianship. Structured chaos reigned as thrash, death, jazz, fusion and prog rock collided in an esoteric force of will, fuelled by integrity, vision and an unwavering commitment to forge forward into new terrain. While Atheist‘s debut, Piece Of Time, had turned heads, Unquestionable Presence blew minds.
Unquestionable Presence remains a landmark record in the history of death metal and it’s more than a little unnerving to think that this pioneering piece of artistry came from the minds of 4 human beings.
Unquestionably unmatched, unparalleled and utterly unique.
1991 was such a perversely productive year in death metal history that we simply must doff our collective cap to the sheer number of classic albums also released in 1991!
Including (but certainly not limited to): Asphyx – The Rack / Autopsy – Mental Funeral / Benediction – The Grand Leveller / Bolt Thrower – War Master / Broken Hope – Swamped In Gore / Cancer – Death Shall Rise / Cannibal Corpse – Butchered At Birth / Darkthrone – Soulside Journey / Convulse – World Without God / Dismember – Like An Everflowing Stream / Entombed – Clandestine / Gorefest – Mindloss / Gorguts – Considered Dead / Grave – Into The Grave / Imperator – The Time Before Time / Loudblast – Disincarnate / Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments / Massacre – From Beyond / Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick / Pestilence – Testimony Of The Ancients / Ripping Corpse – Dreaming With The Dead / Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells…..
Just how good a year 1991 was for death metal is summed up here:
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