Metal 101: 10 Essential Death Metal Albums
Death metal is a genre that is one of the longest running and most popular genres in heavy metal history. With its chugging guitars, fast and intricate drums, overloaded with blast beats and double bass. Along with the "Cookie Monster" style vocals that are a trademark of the genre. But if you are new to the genre, where do you start? What bands do I check out? What albums from that band to start with? Well, I am here to help you out with a metal 101 on death metal. This is not a ranking list, just a list of the best albums to check out if you are new to the genre. I also tried to create a diverse list of subgenres in the list as well, along with band recommendations if you like the albums listed and want to dive into the music more. Class is in session on this introduction to death metal.
Cannibal Corpse "Tomb of The Mutilated"
You cannot discuss death metal without talking about one of the most recognizable and successful bands in the genre with Cannibal Corpse. The album featured graphic lyrical content, mostly sexual themed with songs like "I Cum Blood", "Addicted To Vaginal Skin" and "Entrails Ripped From A Virgin's Cunt". Along with the band's infamous album cover of two corpses being intimate, which graphic album covers would become an iconic representation of the band's image and sound. Inspiring other death metal acts to push the censors and create censored and uncensored covers. The album features the band's signature song, the album opener "Hammer Smashed Face". The band was featured performing the song live in the 1994 movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. With even the film's star Jim Carrey singing with the band live in the movie. With the music being more complex their first two releases, and gutturals by Chris Barnes hitting his lowest on this record, Tomb of The Mutilated is cited by the fans and critics as the band's best record in the Barnes' era of the band and one of the best albums in Cannibal Corpse's discography.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Hate Eternal.
Suffocation "Effigy of The Forgotten"
New York's Suffocation's 1991 debut album added new elements to the genre of death metal. The album included technical proficiency in the guitars and faster palm muting, along with impressive guitar solos by guitarist Terrance Hobbs. The band also features guest vocals by future Cannibal Corpse vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher on the songs "Reincremation" and "Mass Obliteration". On the song "Liege of Inveracity" during the breakdown section, that part is cited as the first "slam riff" in death metal. The band has been credited as being the inspiration for the subgenre of slam or slamming death metal with that track and the band's sound on this record. They are also one of the originators of the brutal death metal description as well, which both genres sometimes going hand-in-hand.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Dying Fetus, Deeds of Flesh and Krisiun.
Nile "Annihilation of The Wicked"
Nile is an American technical death metal band that took the heaviness, technicality and brutality of death metal and infused Middle-Eastern and Egyptian culture and mythology into their music. Creating a defining sound that showed off not only the musical prowess of the band, but the unique instrumentation the band would use in their releases during ambient interludes and throughout their heaviest tracks. Their most commercially successful album, Annihilation of The Wicked featured many heavy and brutal songs that made this album a death metal classic. Showing off the lightning quick speed of drummer George Kolias, along with the insane dual guitar attacks of Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade. At almost an hour of unrelenting, pounding and furious technical death metal, it is a tour de force of insanity and brutality.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Melechesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Hour of Penance.
Death's Entire Discography
I know, I'm technically cheating with this choice, but Death is such a groundbreaking band in death metal. It really is very hard to pick one album from the band. From their thrashier death metal sound of their debut Scream Bloody Gore, the doomier tinged elements of Spiritual Healing, to the start of their progressive death metal sound on Human, to the band's final album The Sound of Perseverance. Death is a band that with their discography had something for everyone, depending on the type of sound/genre you wanted to listen to. The band also featured legendary musicians like drummer Gene Hoglan and bassist Steve DiGiorgio in the band's ranks. Vocalist and lead guitarist Chuck Schuldiner would tragically pass away in 2001 due to brain cancer, but the legacy he has left in death metal is unmatched and Death still stands the test of time with any of their releases.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Beyond Creation, Cynic and Pestilence
Behemoth "The Satanist"
Poland's Behemoth didn't originally start as a death metal band. The band originally started as a black metal band until the band's third album with 1997's Pandemonic Incantations. Taking their black metal roots and infusing death metal proficiency and heaviness, the band would become a torchbearer to become one of the most popular bands in the blackened death metal genre. After many successful releases in this new sound, the band blew up with critical acclaim and fan popularity with The Satanist. Taking their black metal roots, infusing it on a grander scale with symphonic and choir elements, matched with the insane drumming of Inferno and the blasphemy-tinged lyrics of lead vocalist and guitarist Nergal. A defining record in the band's career and one of the greatest blackened death metal records of all time.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Belphegor, God Dethroned and Goatwhore
With the release of Heartwork, grindcore/death metal act Carcass would change the game of death metal. Dubbed "melodic death metal", this album created a subgenre in metal that is one of the most popular subgenres of death metal. With the band creating not only the melodic death metal genre, they would also include rock and roll into their death metal sound, which would also create another subgenre dubbed death n' roll. With the impressive guitar riffs of Bill Steer and Michael Amott, with the snarling vocals of Jeff Walker, Carcass left their stamp on death metal and the band is still going strong with their most recent record in 2021's Torn Arteries. Carcass' origins in grindcore, with gore related lyrics, would also inspire the goregrind genre as well.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: At The Gates, Arch Enemy and Dark Tranquility
Opeth "Blackwater Park"
Sweden's Opeth, with their combination of progressive rock and death metal has given the band a unique and trademark sound throughout the band's career. With Blackwater Park, the record is considered the band's magnum opus and the defining record for the progressive death metal genre. The addition of acoustic guitars, unique time signatures, key changes and vocal mix of growls and clean singing, the record is a standout release and an impressive musical journey. Though the band would officially leave the death metal sound after their Watershed album and go full-on progressive rock/metal, Blackwater Park is one of the defining records of the progressive death metal genre.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Katatonia, Amorphis and Edge of Sanity.
Entombed "Left Hand Path"
Entombed's debut album was not only a popular release for the Swedish death metal scene, but the sound of the guitar left a lasting impact. Named the "buzzsaw" guitar tone, this sound would become a trademark in Swedish death metal and would become popular in the "Gothenburg sound" that would inspire other famous Swedish death metal acts. A pummeling and ferociously heavy record. With vocalist Lars-Göran Petrov's deep, rich vocals and the "buzzsaw" guitar tone from guitarists Uffe Cederlund & Alex Hellid in full effect, it would become a death metal classic and one of the top ten death metal debuts in metal history. The legacy of the music and this guitar tone shows the inspiration that one guitar sound would influence on the death metal scene.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Dismember, Grave and Gorefest.
Morbid Angel "Altars of Madness"
Another legendary debut was Morbid Angel's debut album Altars of Madness. Along with Death and Possessed, this release was garnered for trying new things with the genre. Infusing thrash and impressive guitar work by Trey Azagthoth and the insane drumming complexity of Pete Sandoval, the record was insanely fast, complex and relentless in its heaviness as well as its musicianship. It is one of the highest selling death metal releases of all time and has become a death metal staple in the genre, even over twenty years later.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Vader, Immolation and Nocturnus
A controversial choice for this list, but there is no band that is pushing the boundaries and crossing the line of death metal than experimental death metal band Portal. Adding dark mysticism in its lyrics, macabre imagery live and a demo-like aggressive production style. With gurgling, guttural vocals drenched in reverb and atmosphere, it adds unique layering and dimension to this obscure and hopelessness in the band's sound. One of the new leaders in pushing what death metal can sound like. Though it might not be for everyone with it's sound and imagery, but they are doing something new and innovative with the genre. Making the genre their own and creating something out of the norm and breaking the stereotype of what this genre can sound like.
If you are a fan of this album, check out these bands: Gorguts, Ulcerate and Altarage
With these ten releases, covering so many different variations and variety in the genre itself, I will wrap this death metal 101 article up. Hopefully this has gotten you interested in checking out at least one of these bands or educate yourself on the genre. I would love to do more with other popular genres, or viewer's requests on what we can do next. I think as metalheads, it is our job and our duty to help promote, educate and discover new music in the metal community. Who knows....maybe you might find your new favorite band. Please put in the comments if there is any other bands you would also recommend for this list and what you think of some of these bands, their legacy in the genre, and your favorite songs or albums from them. Class dismissed.