I'm gonna go out on a limb here and be a bit conceited, during what i would consider the "golden" age of death metal from the mid/late 80's till 1991 I was an utter death metal obsessive beyond even what my trainspotting tendencies for all types of music are like now, I used to buy released albums on cassette, CD, Vinyl, Pic Disc and if there's was a coloured vinyl I'd have that as well in some cases I'd have 4 or 5 copies of a single album! Yeah i was that obsessed! In those days my knowledge and enthusiasm for death metal was peerless, I knew all the best bands had every bands demos fresh off the press I received upwards of 5 packages of tapes and records a day and i traded records and tapes with people and bands from all over Europe and the USA as well as as far afield as Mexico, Brazil and Japan I was also once interviewed for a guitar magazine on Dig Earaches recommendation about the original "Grindcrusher" tour in 1989 and bear in mind this is all pre - internet and the most powerful home computer was a sinclair spectrum! I have only recently started listening to some classic death metal again because for a long time i wouldn't touch it, finding the modern scene a bit pathetic but when some of the crustier bands i listened to started to verge on death metal heaviness I decided it was time to swallow the fact that i was old and admit that even at this later stage in my life i still love some of those death metal albums from the classic era!
Just to illustrate my point a typical mail order purchase in the late 80's would go a little like this.. let's use Nuclear Blast as an example as they were the biggest death & grind mail order in Europe at the time, you would write a letter requesting a mail order list go to post office buy 2 or 3 IRC's (international reply coupons 1 IRC = 1 stamp in whichever country you were sending them to) send a self addressed envelope and request a mail order list, wait 2 weeks, get list, choose your records and give alternative choices, you would then calculate price and postage, go to your local travel agent, exchange your UK pounds for Deutschmarks (This was pre-Euros) pay a fee for the exchange, hide the money in the letter go to post office and send it airmail and hope it got there in time for you to get your first choices and that some postal worker along the way wouldn't find your money and steal it, then wait another 2 - 4 weeks for your records to come! What I'm trying to say is in those days the level of commitment to your music had to be high if you wanted to keep up with the latest and most obscure and best bands not like now where you choose what you want on the net click and pay in about 30 seconds and receive your stuff a week later at the worst!
My point in telling you all this is that if i tell you this is MY top 10 death Metal albums then you sure as shit can bank that it is a pretty accurate top 10 arrogant as that may sound! You're welcome to disagree and there will I'm sure be in some peoples opinions some glaring omissions but in my opinion these 11 albums (I know I said it's a top 10 but all will become clear) are all DEFINING moments for the Death metal scene at the time.
It also has to be said that aside from the bands that Tomas Skoberg, producer at Stockholm's Sunlight Studios Sweden, Scott Burns, producer at Morrisound studios Florida and artist Dan Seagrave should be given as much credit for the exposure and popularity of death metal as a musical force because these fellas were beyond important to shaping the sound and look of death metal during this period and without them i truly believe death metal as we knew/know it would not exist and would most likely have languished in the underground where it had done for the years preceding it's explosion in popularity. (Honourable mention must also go to artist Edward J Repka who illustrated the first 3 Death album covers and the first Massacre album as well as other numerous thrash and Metal album covers)
Now let me be clear one example of a glaring omission from this list will be Morbid Angel (who's debut and subsequent popularity i truly never got) however with the exception of one album on my list I am discounting any bands who's sound was centred around "Blast beats" there is the occasional "blast" on some of these albums but for all bar one on this list it is not a defining part of their sound in my opinion to qualify as proper Death Metal there's a certain pace and sound to it and that is not the intensive use of "blast beats" OK? also most of these albums are debut albums simply because tho some of these bands later albums may have been more popular it was their debuts that had the biggest effect on the music and the scene. So with that said let's countdown!
#10 Benediction : "Subconscious Terror" (1990)
This album is probably most well known for launching the career of one Mark "Barney" Greenway who was already committed to become vocalist in Napalm Death during the recording of this album, however that's another story! I knew Barney through tape trading well before his tenure with ND and I remember when he sent me the 1st Benediction Demo "The Dreams You Dread" I was blown away here was a band who had taken their lessons from the cream of the best demo death metal and distilled them into their own sound their studying of Death metal is evidenced by Barneys roars of "Master" preceding a Master style part of a song and his stealing of Kam Lee's (Death/Massacre) trademark "Slllooowww" roar and sinister Laughing before breakdowns and they were British which was a rarity!! All but one of the 5 songs from the demo appear on this album with vastly better production. This album had shades of all the classics Massacre, Death, Master, Celtic Frost and Barney's Kam Lee (Massacre) vocals were just amazing (His best vocals are on this album he never seemed to hit it as good again for Napalm) This album has fucking killer riffs by the bucket load and a real good sense of pace and dynamics whilst most death metal bands were content to put out an album with 10 or 12 songs of the same fast 1-2 1-2 traditional Death Metal pace this had fast,slow and mid-paced songs all of which worked really well to create an album that was original as it was an obvious nod to it's influences, it also has a dark and sombre atmosphere that few Death metal bands were able to create.incredibly accomplished songs for a debut but it has to be said maybe they could have done with a bit more practice before the album as the playing is very slightly sloppy in places but hey it is Death metal not tech-metal! and Benediction ALWAYS get extra points for being one of the few original death metal bands who have rigidly stuck to their template and continued to release consistent, classic and old school death metal to this day some 23 years later!
#9 Deicide - Deicide (1990)
Florida's Deicide had previously been called Amon and had released a couple of demos that had been well received on the underground scene, changing their name to Deicide they instantly came to the attention of the metal world at large because of front man Glen Benton's outspoken satanic beliefs and the whole "Branding an inverted cross on his forehead" thing, to me this kinda cheapened what Deicide had to offer and Benton's larger than life satanic persona has to my mind held them back over the years whilst they enjoyed massive success with their first 2 albums released during the peak of death metal's popularity it seems they have been playing to the die hard underground since then I would also say since the second album there has been little progression musically. Anyway enough of the negativity as I don't want to detract from this album here. The sheer talent displayed in the twin guitar attack of brothers Eric & Brian Hoffman cannot be understated although there were many talented guitarists in Death metal these guys were definitely among the front runners speedy riffing and finger shredding solos are in abundance here back that with the rhythm section of Benton on bass and amazing drummer Steve Asheim top this with Bentons satanic barking and screaming and you had one helluva intense album. There's absolutely no let up here from the opening chords to the end of the album you have sub - blast speeds fast and technically accomplished riffing rapid fire double bass drumming all wrapped in stellar production by death metal producer extraordinaire Scott Burns at his Morrisound studios. Though the whole satanic thing has probably left people seeing Deicide as a bit of a joke I have to say this album is in no way funny, this is dark heavy and punishing throughout the sheer pace, tightness and velocity of this album makes it an extremely accomplished debut and displays talent beyond the grasp of the majority of the bludgeoning death metal bands that proliferated at the time also the sincerity of Benton's satanism was no mere imagery thing giving this album an added darkness missing from most of the more gore and murder type lyrics that were the norm. Again this is essential.
#8 Carnage "Dark Recollections" (1990) / Dismember : "Like An Everflowing Stream" (1991)
OK so i said it was a top 10 and here's 2 albums at number 8 actually making it a top 11 there is a good reason for this... both Dismember & Carnage had been making big waves on the underground scene in the late 80's Carnage with their 2 demo's "Infestation Of Evil" and "The Day Man Lost" (the "Infestation Of Evil" t-shirt was one of the most prized by death metal fans at the time i however never managed to get one!) Carnage seemed to be unable to maintain a stable line up with the exception of founder Michael Amott on guitar so for their debut album he enlisted 3/5 of Dismember to play on it and no less than 4 of it's 10 songs were Dismember songs from their demos as well as both albums having been recorded at Sunlight Studios having an identical sound and both having Dan Seagrave cover art to my mind if you have 3/4 of Dismember including their vocalist and one of their guitarists in your band and use 4 of Dismember's songs well my conclusion is that you are in fact Dismember!! So by my reckoning that makes this Carnage album pretty much Dismember's 1st album albeit if the remaining 6 songs were Carnage originals 1 of those "Torn Apart" was subsequently re-recorded for Dismember's debut album "Like An Everflowing Stream" so all these factors together mean that these albums both need to be included together here but individually they were both a massive influence on the scene at the time So as the band members, studio, sound, cover art and songs are shared I'll talk about both these albums at once here.I find it strange that Carnage having the opportunity to record their album first that Dismember gave up 4 great songs from their demos for it, especially shocking for me at the time was the inclusion of "Deranged From Blood" it was always a favorite of mine from the Dismember demos and one of their most distinctive and memorable songs and a song that good should've been saved for their own debut album however i get the feeling that maybe Dismember didn't have a deal for an album with anyone at this point and saw this as a chance to get their songs out there? "Like an Ever Flowing Stream" was equally as good as the Carnage debut although maybe a little faster and a little bit sharper on the production sound but the songs are just immense and i suppose having given up the 4 demo songs to Carnage's album meant that there were 8 new songs on the album which after caning the demos for ages, it was great to have a load of new material! And their new songs had some great ideas as well like the triggered choral samples in "And So Is Life"! To me these albums along with Entombed's "Left Hand Path" are like the unholy trinity of Swedish death metal and along with that Sunlight studio crunching guitar sound defined a sound that's echoes are still being felt today in both heavier hardcore and death metal.these 2 albums are really inseparable in my mind and are vital and essential pieces of Death metal history I can't tell you the impact of hearing these both for the first time less than a year apart! Essential classic and brutal death metal!
#7 Obituary : "Slowly We Rot" (1989)
#6 Slaughter : "Strappado" (1987)
Canada's Slaughter were a 3 piece band named as a reaction to the piss poor hair metal band of the same name that enjoyed immense popularity at this time. Having had Chuck Schuldiner of Death in their line up at one time and having enjoyed huge underground acclaim with first studio demo "Surrender Or Die" Slaughter were a force to be reckoned with! I had just missed Slaughter's debut because i didn't really get into death metal until around late 88 early 89 so they were one of the bands I had to go back to however once i heard this album I was utterly hooked and they became one of my favorite bands all the way through my youthful Death metal infatuation First off the production on this album is IMMENSE recorded at future sound studios in Canada by someone called Brian Tailor i have no idea how the hell with death metal in it's infancy that he had any idea of how to make a band sound so huge and it's definitely a defining factor in how great this album is Firstly the guitar and bass cut like chainsaws and the drums feel like an earthquake with someone pounding logs with sledgehammers over it! then you have the dual vocal attack of Dave Hewson and Terry Sadler (Guitar and bass respectively) This album is just insanely good even some 26 years later it still sounds fresh and vital! These guys had influences from both the heavier end of metal as well as hardcore and punk and the hardcore influence definitely shows in the vocal attack and the sheer speed of some of the tracks however this is a supremely heavy album full of primitive bludgeoning riffs that define the very essence of death metal and those guitar & bass sounds are just destroying! In 88 i was singing in a sludgy sorta crusty political band and even we couldn't resist covering the misogynistic lyrical sludgefest of "Fuck Of Death." from this album! It's just so good and it's appeal is in it's utter simplicity there's no flashy technical riffs no mind bending solos just sheer bloody minded head smashing brutality! Utterly brilliant completely memorable and above all great fun! This album should be in the collection of EVERY fan of any kind of extreme metal/crust whatever it's really THAT good! (This is the remastered re-issue with 3 bonus tracks the reissue mixed them all up so i have restored it to it's original vinyl running order and put the bonus tracks to the end as i feel this is the best way to hear it it's all properly tagged etc so ENJOY!)
#5 Autopsy : "Severed Survival" (1989)
So we're into the top 5 and here we have Californians Autopsy's debut I have an interesting story about this, I was quite good friends with both Dig at Earache and Hammy from Peaceville during the years this post covers and as i said at the beginning I was an obsessive and had contacts everywhere round the globe and one of those was Chris Reifert of Autopsy I had received both the 87 & 88 Autopsy demos from him and they instantly shot to the top of my favorite listens however no labels seemed to be interested in this amazing band that had been around for almost 2 years and included an ex-member of Death!!! So after realizing neither of them had really payed much attention to Autopsy i sent the demo tapes to both Dig and Hammy and followed up with phone calls to make sure they had received the demos and were gonna give them a listen Dig seemed interested but not really too enthusiastic however subsequently i never heard back from Hammy then suddenly Autopsy were signed to Peaceville and released their debut a year later. Now I am in no way trying to take credit for having a part in unleashing Autopsy on the world i do think that since neither Dig nor Hammy had showed any interest in Autopsy over their first 2 years of existence then i sent them both tapes and then Autopsy signed to Peaceville wellllll like i say I'm NOT trying to take credit it's probably just coincidence but you can draw your own conclusions.
Anyway enough reminiscing! This debut album was originally packaged in the sleeve I have put at the top of this post however it was deemed too shocking at the time and after the initial run was subsequently banned and replaced with this Kev Walker cover art...
it has thankfully been repackaged in recent years with it's original artwork restored because the original artwork, slightly cheesy as it is is a far more appropriate cover for an album as utterly sick and twisted as this! It's getting harder as i go on to find fresh descriptive terms for these albums but I'll try! Firstly this album really has a dark feel to it although it has a fairly typical fast death metal pace throughout it has a really doomy edge to the riffing and breakdowns (something that would become more prevalent on next album "Mental Funeral" which was stripped of speed and was pretty much a doom/death metal album) The doomy edge gives this album quite a claustrophobic feel as it kinda sucks you in with the twisted sound and Chris Reifert's vocals are probably the sickest sounding vocals you will find wavering from guttural to anguished screaming throughout they really sounded quite deranged, couple this with the cover art and the subject matter and this was one of the most gruesome albums of the era! There's some punishingly heavy riffing throughout the band are tight and well practiced and this album is one of the few where the bass guitar is as prevalent in the mix as the guitars and has a real good clean sound even though it's obviously downtuned. What merits this albums inclusion in the top 5 is the fact that to my mind Autopsy on this album were pretty much one of the bands that were the true definition of Death metal, they created an atmosphere not unlike a really good dark horror movie something that really gets under your skin and stays with you, couple this with the extremely gruesome lyrics and Chris Reifert's vocals you have an album that's as much of a primal and enjoyable rush as it is a terrifying listen!
#4 Death : "Scream Bloody Gore" (1987)
#3 Repulsion : "Horrified" (rec 1986 rel. 1989)
Well this is the one release i mentioned in my intro where I break my rule on "Blast beats" Flint Michigan's Repulsion started life as Genocide and released one demo in 1985 that was globally revered on the tape trading underground! Guitarists Aaron Freeman & Matt Olivio also served time in one of the multiple early pre-album line ups of Death and Chuck Schuldiner of Death was even in Repulsion for a brief stint! After realizing there were multiple bands around the world called Genocide a change of name was deemed appropriate and more appropriate name for the sheer intense speed and brutality of their music there was not! During the height of the Death metal years Repulsion were my favourite band to the point that my first tattoo was a very badly done and bore little resemblance to the above rotted face logo that i had done when i was 18 i also took to calling myself Dave Grave after their drummer as well (something i get ribbed about by friends to this day)! Yeah they are that good.
Taking their influence from the New wave Of British Heavy Metal and the usual heavy suspects (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer,Venom, Motorhead) and a some hardcore chucking it in a blender with some body parts and coming out with Repulsion! Taking the primitive death metal riffing of their peers speeding it up to about 3 or 4 times it's normal speed and underpinning it with Scott Carlson's beyond brutal fuzzed out bass (Listen to the intro of "Festering Boils" believe me it's not even distinguishable as a bass) and vocals dripping with sheer attitude all backed with Dave Grave's utter blur of superfast drumming this is where the roots of "grindcore" began and as far as i'm aware this was the first and at the time fastest use of the blast beat! Tho many would call them grindcore what for me stops them from teetering over into that territory is the guitar riffs are pure death metal all be it speeded up to beyond anything that had been done so far, the riffs and feel of this music is still very sinister even if it is done at such speed, the guitarwork is stellar in the fact that they can play death metal riffs at that speed plus the few short and utterly fingertip slicing solos in there! No breakdowns no super heavy walls of riffage here just sheer velocity the pace only slipping below blast pace briefly for maybe 2 or 3 tracks and even the slowest track on here "Radiation Sickness" is still faster than most of their death metal peers. This album presented here "Horrified" was actually the one and only recording done by Repulsion at that time and had been doing the tape trading rounds for years as the "Slaughter Of The Innocent" demo it was picked up by Jeff and Bill of Carcass's Earache subsidiary Necrosis records (also responsible for the first issue of the Carnage album at #8 in this post) given a proper mix and issued as "Horrified" and has seen multiple re-issues and expansions since this version here is taken from my original Necrosis CD so it's not quite as loud as the other re-issues but i felt it should be heard as it was originally released so I've uploaded my copy of the original CD here for you! The influence of this band in both style and speed is still felt in both Death metal and grindcore today and Repulsion have toured as recently as earlier this year Scott Carlson has also been serving time in death metal supergroup Death Breath with Nicke Andersson (Ex- Entombed and Hellacopters) so it's obviously in these guys blood to play this music and it shows, without this album many bands and much music would not exist this is probably one of the most important albums for death metal culture and sound in this post.
#2 Massacre : " From Beyond" (1991)
#1 Entombed : "Left Hand Path" (1990)
These young Swedes as you probably know began life as Nihilist releasing 3 demos over 2 years from 88 - 89 before realizing there was another band called Nihilist and to save confusion changed their name to Entombed and recorded 1 further demo before unleashing this debut album in 1990. Firstly it has to be made clear that to young and new fans of the genre it's important that you know that this was the first Death Metal album to be recorded at Sunlight Studios in Stockholm tho that specific Sunlight sound has been replicated countless times and Sunlight itself has seen hundreds of death metal bands pass through the studio since this album seeking that sound this was the first of them and without this album the specific sound of early Swedish death metal would not exist as we know it.
This albums 12 tracks (10 on vinyl) collects almost all of the Nihilist and Entombed demo tracks and adds 2 new tracks, the title track of the album and "Drowned". From the off this album just goes for the throat from the opening effected scream to the dying chords there is not a second of this album that does not demand your full attention! Firstly the pace is ferocious without falling into stupidly fast territory tho it was definitely a bit faster than the majority of death metal at the time and the guitar sound is just sick it has a crunch and heaviness that only Sunlight studios could provide (many bands have replicated the sound at other studios but it never quite achieve that specific sound) top that with L.G. Petrov's brilliant vocals somewhere between the growl of Death metal and the shout of punk (this being a testament to the fact that Entombed by their own admission were influenced as much by classic metal, death metal etc as they were bands like Discharge and their native classic hardcore "kang" punk) I could go on for hours about how great this album is and the effect of this album on the scene was enormous the shock waves of this album were still being felt years after it's release and even to this day (you only have to look to #8 in this top 10 for proof both the Dismember and Carnage debuts tho released shortly after "Left hand Path" had a very similar sound to this album and both of those bands had existed as long and commanded similar respect on the demo scene as Entombed however if you listen to those bands pre-album demos they sounded nothing like Entombed preceding their debuts) Whilst death metal had been around for a while it really enjoyed it's highest popularity from the late 80's to 1992 and preceding the Entombed debut whilst as this top 10 shows there was many great bands and albums around the formula was becoming a little stale and a lot of bandwagon jumping was going on but this album was fresh original and utterly wiped the floor with it's peers and even the bands it was influenced by, the sheer wealth of talent on display here for a reasonably new and very young band was jaw dropping this album displayed a depth of maturity and a grasp of sound and dynamics that for a debut album was beyond belief! Although there have been some great albums in the genre and the best 10 are here for you this album stands head and shoulders above everything released before and since it was a real shock and such a breath of fresh air for a scene that although in it's infancy was beginning to become a little stale. This album deserves to be #1 in this post there's no doubt in my mind if you've heard it then you know I'm right if you haven't then i suggest you get going and download it now 23 years later it still sounds as vicious tight and utterly brutal as it ever did, if you only ever own 1 death metal album in your life it should be this one.
So there you go as i said i'm sure many of you will consider some of these choices as unworthy and i'm sure there are some glaring omissions for example I'm sure i will get a verbal kicking for not including Master's debut album but though it does deserve inclusion here i feel that at 17 mins long and having been around the tape trading circuit for 6/7 years before seeing an actual relase that it's influence was more felt as an underground demo rather than a realesed album and by that measure i would have had to make this a top 50 because there were so many influential and great bands that never saw an album and existed only as demo bands although many had their demos collected and reissued many years later (Dr Shrinker, Insanity and Fatal to name but a few) This post was intended for albums only. I'm hoping that this post will provoke some debate and discussion and i truly welcome it there's nothing i love more than discussing classic music so please feel free to comment in the meantime help yourself to 11 great albums that defined a scene that meant so much to me during my formative years and that I still love to this day!
(Me aged about 15/16 in my bedroom at my parent's first home NEEEEERD!)