Since its inception in the mid-80s, death metal has remained one of heavy metal’s most prominent powerhouses. While the likes of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden provided their own brand of intensity, death metal proved to be an even greater form of sonic madness (only rivaled by that of black metal).
For almost 40 years, a tremendous amount of death metal bands have been formed, with many not only building upon and reinventing the metal genre but also pushing the boundaries of extreme horror in art. And let alone that so many amazing new metal bands have come out in the past 20 years, but in the past few years specifically, there has been an incredible new wave of bands who are bringing back the old-school death metal sound.
Looking back on that nearly half a century-long existence, there are a lot of amazing death metal albums; however, of all those records, there are 10 death metal albums that truly stand the test of time and can be considered the genre’s strongest achievements.
Kill – Cannibal Corpse
Cannibal Corpse has cemented themselves as THE BIGGEST death metal band, and while earlier works like Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated are essential albums to their catalog, we feel that 2006’s Kill is, by far, the strongest release they have ever put out. Along with featuring the guttural vocal talents of George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, the album also showcases a stunning range of menacing, violent-sounding instrumentation. This album is a death metal masterpiece, each song seething with a rage that is able to both exhilarate listeners and even potentially disturb them. When it comes to death metal albums striving to capture that “horror movie” essence, Kill is one of the best records to learn from.
Altars of Madness – Morbid Angel
Frankly, Morbid Angel is all the things people love about Slayer, but cranked up to 12 (well, at least early Morbid Angel). Altars of Madness displays a thrilling range of technically intricate compositions, with killer, speedy riffs taking on startling time signature shifts and unleashing an array of exciting and ominous-sounding tones. The atmosphere of Altars makes it one of death metal’s seminal albums, immediately setting a tone for what’s possible in the genre. It has gone on to influence a great number of bands; like Frozen Soul, who take a frost-bitten approach to the genre.
Heartwork – Carcass
Without a doubt, goregrind stands as one of metal’s most repulsive and ferocious-sounding subgenres, and you can thank Carcass for that. At the time the band first started releasing music, their implementation of grindcore allowed them to create music that sounded far more abrasive than anything else happening in death metal, which in turn offered a whole new intriguing side to the genre. Carcass has gone on to create some amazing records but the stand-out album for them is Heartwork, which displays not just frenetic goregrind but also showcases that intensity through incredible technical performances that allow for each song to sound unique (catching listeners by surprise).
Leprosy – Death
When it comes to all the awesome technical death metal bands you love, you owe a lot of thanks to the likes of Death. And as one of the pioneers of the whole genre, of course, we have to highlight an album from them. Among the band’s discography, we feel that Leprosy deserves to get the shout-out, given how much style it shows off throughout its runtime. From tech to melodic to progressive metal, Leprosy is brimming with flavor and technical finesse, making for one of the most captivating and intellectually engaging works to come from death metal.
Left Hand Path – Entombed
It’s not a stretch to say that Entombed is Sweden’s greatest cultural export. While their countrymen would eventually kickstart the melodeath genre, Entombed was there from the beginning. Their debut album Left Hand Path offered a captivating new sound that would go on to ripple throughout death metal. This gritty, ultra-heavy sound has become a pillar within the scene, lending inspiration to everyone from Knocked Loose to Undeath.
None So Vile – Cryptopsy
Though Cryptopsy is yet another important band in the history of tech death, one could also argue that they are also an important band in spawning the brutal slam scene (alongside such bands as Cannibal Corpse). Death metal is no stranger to shocking and grotesque lyricism, but Cryptopsy’s lyrics make for some next-level brutality. The shock and awe of Cryptosy has worked its way into more modern bands as well, such as Sanguisugabogg. None So Vile stands as their most exhilarating work, featuring some of the band’s most haunting and gross lyricism, alongside technical performances that are nothing short of masterful.
Obscura – Gorguts
The likes of Death have had a tremendous impact inspiring many other bands, with one of those acts being Gorguts. They opt for a relatively concise discography, offering up some of the smartest, most well-written songs in the genre. Obscura highlights the band’s jaw-dropping technical, even jazzy approach to constructing mesmerizing death metal.
Nocturnal – The Black Dahlia Murder
With their formation in 2001, The Black Dahlia Murder would go on to cement themselves as one of the strongest and most captivating bands to come from a younger generation of death metalheads. Along with carrying forth the torch of melodic death metal, their late frontman (the incredible Trevor Strnad) always brought tremendous energy to his vocal and live performances. Among their records, Nocturnal is by far the most iconic of them, and it has helped to cement The Black Dahlia Murder as one of the most important gateway bands in death metal.
Slowly We Rot – Obituary
Similar in a way to Morbid Angel, Obituary carries forth the sort of spirit you would expect to hear in something like Anthrax and other thrash acts, except Obituary sounds much nastier. The band’s brand of crossover death metal isn’t just ferociously fast and mean-sounding, the music has a texture to it that reeks. When you listen to any given song off of Slowly We Rot, a sense of decay is present. Every crunchy beat and riff drips with heaviness. This is such an essential element to so much of modern death metal, for this sense of texture is used to create gripping and horrifying worlds of horror (for example, you can draw a line from Slowly We Rot to 200 Stab Wounds‘ Slave to the Scalpel).
Hidden History of the Human Race – Blood Incantation
There is a lot of amazing modern death metal happening right now, but the standout album of the 2010s and onward is Hidden History of the Human Race by Blood Incantation. It’s interesting noting from this list alone, but the trajectory of technical death metal can be seen from Death’s Leprosy (1988) to Gorguts’ Obscura (1998) and up to this record (which came out in 2019). Hidden History is an astounding experience, packing so much technical finesse alongside a dazzling atmosphere. At first, it can feel like a lot to process, but Blood Incantation are incredible musicians, and from beginning to end, they craft their compositions in a way that you are gradually immersed in the music’s captivating duality of psychedelic tranquility and all-out brutal heaviness.