It is quite a common occurrence among “Non Metal heads” to invariably use the term “Death Metal” to refer to all sorts of metal they find repulsive. Now for those of you who think metal is simply loud rock music, then death metal will then be the logical end of metal music!
All death metal albums are often like runaway trains, with free form song structures and chaotic solos flying everywhere. Vocals are throat-ripping growls. Guitars are tuned so low beyond the convention that they literally roar. Drums are so fast they sound like blenders in heat. The outcome is ugly, and gloriously so. If you want to see an athletic push himself to the limit, why hold back a musician?
If this has inspired you to explore the outward bounds of musicality and dexterity, check out these 10 essential death metal albums. The albums are merely arranged in a chronological order and do not imply their level of “greatness”.
Slayer – Reign in Blood 
The 30 odd minutes of the album are one of death metal’s finest hour. The producer of the band Rick Rubin reportedly had to fight back tears after the Slayer quartet ripped through the album set. Popular music magazine “Kerrang!” termed it at “the heaviest album of all times.” Down-tuned rhythms, infectious guitar licks, graphically violent lyrics and grisly artwork – the album has it all to make for a perfect stepping stone to the world of death metal music.
Death – Leprosy 
American guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner is considered as the “father of death metal”. The debut album of his band Death entitled Scream Bloody Gore is described as “death metal’s first archetypal document”. However, it was their second offering Leprosy that has the sign of ultra technicality that the band is known for. Listen to the viscous guitar work and vocals of Chuck Schuldiner and spirited drums of Richard Christy and you will understand why Norwegian black metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone still swear allegiance to Death.
Slowly We Rot is the ugliest death metal album ever. This was the first album of the pioneer death metal band Obituary done on a budget of mere hundreds of dollars. The album art itself looks like it was taken from a note book of a bored collage kid. John Tardy’s vocals were a mix of snarling lion and a human retching. Added to it are the ferocious primitive drumming and sludgy grooves and you have a sound so uniquely askew that it still sounds fresh today.
Deicide – Deicide 
Deicide literally means “the killing of a God”. The band from Florida, US, did quite a few antics to set themselves apart from similar act in that area like Morbid Angel and Death including singer/bassist Glen Benton burning an inverted cross in his forehead. Their inclusion in this list has nothing to do with that. Their debut album is in the list for the sole reason – the music is much more engaging. The six-stringed duel between the two Hoffman brothers; machine guns double bass drumming by Steve Asheim – all of it create the perfect backdrop for vocalist Benton to growl, screech and howl.
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten 
This album by the band Suffocation is said to have laid roots of an entirely new sub-genre “Brutal Heavy Metal”. A low vocal delivery with highly technical power riffs and extremely fast tremolo picking on the guitar is a step away from the traditional melodic sense. Drummer Mike Smith’s beats are not just soft and fast taps like others but sledge hammer hits. Add to it an over-the-top artwork by metal artist Dan Seagrave – and you have an all time classic.
Fear Factory – Soul of a New Machine 
Another debut album enters the list with Soul of a New Machine by Los Angeles death metal band Fear Factory. The album was a breakthrough in terms of vocal delivery. Vocalist Bell used for the first time, the scream-sing vocal style that many bands use now. The entire genre of metalcore would not exist without this album. Unfortunately, Fear Factory abandoned this sound on subsequent releases but nothing changes the fact that without Soul of a New Machine, metal wouldn’t be what it is today.
Carcass – Heartwork 
Carcass began as a grindcore band, when they were formed in 1985 in England. By the time they released their fourth studio album Heartwork, the band’s sound have gradually became more melodic and complex, shading into death metal. The album had everything. Vocalist Jeff Walker was in fine form, the lyrics had a newly mature sense of abstraction, huge riffs, fluid leads, and crisp staccato harmonies. It is very sad that bands like this gets disbanded due to personal differences. Guitarist Amott went on to form melodic death metal act Arch Enemy. Bands like Arsis have carried forward the musical journey started by Heartwork.
Morbid Angel is one of the few pioneers that took death metal away from its roots in thrash metal. The album included in this list is ‘D’ for Domination which have followed an alphabetic theme of Morbid Angel’s albums starting with their debut album Altars of Madness. The album has everything loveable about Morbid Angel – from brutality of its earlier days to abstract lyrics and catchy songwriting of now. All in all, the album is full of stuff that has inspired other bands like Nile, Behemoth, and Hate Eternal.
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul 
Of all bands in the Swedish metal scene, At the Gates is the most popular and has been in existence since the inception of Swedes Metal. Their album Slaughter of the Soul was released in the mid 90’s amidst the stagnation of metal acts in US and England. The unique sound was what the global audience of metal lovers was waiting for. The album is considered to be one of the breakthrough albums in the history of metalcore and the heavy metal genre as a whole. The American metalcore has basically taken this album and copied it a thousand times over! Thankfully, Slaughter of the Soul still held back its own.
Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines 
Nile is among the very few bands that have successfully stuck to their theme since their inception. The band’s song writer Karl Sabdler who also doubles up as vocalist cum guitarist has a great fascination for Egyptology and other Middle Eastern cultures. This shows in all their lyrics across various albums. In Their Darkened Shrines is their third offering. The album is nothing less of a musical masterpiece with elaborate arrangement, skillful guitar play and abstract lyrics. So much so, if the Pharaoh of Egypt had lived today, he sure would have selected his national anthem from the album In Their Darkened Shrines.