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.
We’re sticking with albums that were officially released in the 1980’s in this feature. So, no demos, no EP’s and no albums that were recorded in the 80’s but remained unreleased until the 90’s…..just in case you wanted to bemoan the lack of Terminal Death’s Faces Of Death demo, for example!
Here’s Worship Metal’s pick of the 80’s death metal albums which shook the metal world to its very core……
Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)
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 debut, 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 death 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.
Death – Scream Bloody Gore (1987)
An album of incomparable influence, Death‘s defining debut has been dissected and discussed over and over again, and we’d be surprised if we could come up with anything original to say about an album that is considered the first true death metal album.
Here was the moment when extreme metal took a sharp turn into all-out savagery and tracks such as “Infernal Death”, “Zombie Ritual” and “Regurgitated Guts” have gone down in death metal folklore as classics of the genre….even if Death would go on to deliver more accomplished and more succinct blows as their career developed.
With Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck Schuldiner was carving his own path and, as originators go, there remains no one more important in extreme metal history than this maverick of mutilation.
Necrophagia – Season Of The Dead (1987)
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 important part with the riffs often adopting a mid-paced chug as opposed to all-out attack. That’s not to say that Necrophagia don’t know how to quicken the pace, moments on “Mental Decay” combine the two styles perfectly while “Abomination” is a thrashy slice of morbid malevolence.
Season Of The Dead is a unique, splatter-saturated ode to Horror and stands bloodied and proud as a defining moment in the evolution of death metal.
Death – Leprosy (1988)
Emerging at a time when death metal was still barely in nappies, Leprosy was the next logical step after the neanderthal bludgeoning of Scream Bloody Gore had laid waste to thrash back in 1987.
Notably progressive when compared to Death‘s solid debut, the late, great, Chuck Schuldiner upped the ante in every department on this sophomore effort.
With a vast improvement in songwriting, Death were already leaving their peers in the dust, and Leprosy‘s 8 tracks of sublime brutality arguably defined the genre before it had even begun.
Quite simply an album whose importance to death metal cannot be underestimated.
Autopsy – Severed Survival (1989)
The thickest, most putrid sound of death imaginable was at the very core of Autopsy’s debut masterpiece, the incomprehensibly evil sounding Severed Survival.
Wallowing in the kind of muddy riffs that submerge the senses, Severed Survival bucked the prevailing death metal trends of playing faster and playing harder and instead upped the brutality by slowing….things….right….down.
In turn, Autopsy did hit harder, announcing themselves as the go-to death metal band for those who sought variation to go along with their gore. There was still speed when speed was required of course,but the impact was greater due to the lumbering riffs that often preceded furious bursts of noise.
When death metal was at it’s freshest and during it’s most enticing and exciting period, Autopsy dragged the genre back down in the gutter, to writhe in the decaying mass of human existence. Which is exactly where it belonged!
Bolt Thrower – Realms Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness (1989)
The UK may have been relatively slow on the death metal uptake, (we were concentrating on establishing grindcore though, so don’t hold it against us), but Bolt Thrower were the one anomaly…..and they would turn out to be one of the most vital bands in death metal history.
While debut In Battle There Is No Law! was more crusty grind than death metal, 1989’s Realms Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness was the real deathly deal! Sure, elements of grindcore remained but this monster of an album was built on the heaviest grooves heard at the time and the unholy roar of Karl Willets; a combination that takes some beating to this very day!
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.
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989)
Altars Of Madness is arguably the pinnacle of death metal and one of the finest extreme albums ever conceived.
Chuck and Death may have popularised the genre but Morbid Angel chrystalised it, gave it a complete and recognisable identity and produced one of the greatest albums in metal history in the process; how songs with this much groove could be performed in such a non-standard manner still blows minds!
Here were unconventional musicians, unafraid, challenging preconceptions and embracing the extreme and yet somehow composing music that invites rather than repels; each track lingers long in the mind and although “Immortal Rites”, “Visions From The Dark Side” and “Evil Spells” are highlights, the entire album is utterly indispensable.
Altars of Madness captured the souls of millions of newly-converted death metal fanatics and the flood gates were well and truly open; death metal had arrived.
Obituary – Slowly We Rot (1989)
An album that shit directly in the gawping face of thrash, Obituary‘s shocking and seminal debut was the sound of death metal fully realising its unlimited capabilities.
Led by John Tardy’s iconic growls, howls and innumerable gargled noises, Slowly We Rot simply took the noise made by the likes of Possessed, Death and Necrophagia and wrung ten gallons of filth out of it; creating one of the most disgusting debut albums in extreme metal history in the process.
Unrelenting and as ugly as sin, this was the sound of a band determined to take extremity to another level and to say this debut was shocking would be to do it a considerable disservice.
Death metal’s blueprint in hideously disfigured form, Slowly We Rot is quite rightly revered as an all time 80s death metal classic and is, arguably, the finest album of Obituary’s illustrious career.
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse (1989)
Pestilence‘s debut was a thrash album in essence but their sophomore album, Consuming Impulse, was a death metal album through and through….and proved to be a key moment in death metal’s rampaging evolution.
Raw, honest, powerful and confident, Pestilence fashioned a collection of exemplary death metal songs built on a solid foundation of inventive riffs, atonal solos and Martin VanDrunen’s recognisably unhinged howls.
Songs such as “Dehydrated”, “Suspended Animation” and “Out of the Body” have become part of the death metal lexicon and while Pestilence were already exhibiting much of the technicality that would go on to inform their later efforts, Consuming Impulse was still very much focused on delivering the heaviest, most brutal death metal around.
Consuming Impulse was simply Pestilence at their most ferocious and has gone down in history as a classic of the genre. Not a bad way to end the decade!
Honourable mentions: We’d be remiss not to acknowledge the early works of such legendary acts as Venom, Post Mortem, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Dark Angel, Slaughter, Messiah, Sepultura, Sacrifice, Sadus, Protector, Vulcano, Dream Death and Kreator, all of whom had a major part to play in the evolution of 80s death metal (without ever releasing a bona fide ‘death metal’ album in that era).