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5 Essential Death Metal Albums

Updated on February 26, 2012


This is a list of some death metal albums that I think are essential for people just getting into the genre. These aren’t necessarily my favorites (although I do love them all), but just some great albums for newer fans. I don’t claim to be an expert on the genre, but I do know all of the basics. If I leave out something really obvious, please feel free to correct me. I’ll leave a list of some other essential albums at the end of the list. The list primarily focuses on death metal from the 80s and 90s.

The colorful album artwork for "Leprosy".
The colorful album artwork for "Leprosy". | Source

Death- "Leprosy" (1988)

Death is considered by most to be the very first death metal band, and I agree with this statement. While others came before them (most notably Possessed), Death really created the standard death metal sound with their 1987 debut album entitled “Scream Bloody Gore”. “Leprosy” was their second album and further defined the death metal sound. There’s less of a thrash sound on this one, and it’s more solid the debut in both terms of songwriting and musicianship. I think that after listening to Death over a span of a couple years, “Leprosy” is still my favorite release of theirs. Notable songs include the sinister title track, “Forgotten Past”, “Left to Die”, “Pull the Plug” and “Choke on It”.

The artwork for "Necroticism:  Descanting the Insalubrious".
The artwork for "Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious". | Source

Carcass- "Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious" (1991)

While they didn’t create the genre, the British band Carcass were pioneers in many different varieties of death metal. Aside from the traditional death metal style, they also played goregrind and melodic death metal (and some even say death n’ roll) during their career. “Necroticism” is perhaps their most orthodox death metal album, but it does have a technical and progressive edge to it. The musicians are incredibly skilled at their instruments as many death metal bands were at the time. There is a cold beauty to Carcass’s music, and it’s in full force here. The lyrics are crazy, being gory descriptions of the disposal and usage of dead bodies (complete with medical terminology). “Necroticism” may even be better than the aforementioned “Leprosy”. The best songs are: “Impropagation”, “Symposium of Sickness”, “Corporal Jigsore Quandary”, and “Incarnated Solvent Abuse”.

The original artwork for "Severed Survival".
The original artwork for "Severed Survival". | Source

Autopsy- Severed Survival (1989)

“Severed Survival” is the signature death metal album to many metalheads. It’s dirty and raw, with some of the most intense death metal vocals of all time. The vocalist is literally unintelligible. Fuzzy guitars complement these gut wrenching vocals perfectly, and thus a death metal classic is created. “Severed Survival” is a mandatory listen for anyone new to the genre. I might not like it as much as “Leprosy” or “Necrotism”, but it still deserves its place on the list. The best songs include: “Charred Remains”, “Gasping For Air”, “Ridden With Disease”, and “Impending Dread”.

This is an alternate cover for "Severed Survival".  I believe it's a censored version, but I actually like it more than the other.
This is an alternate cover for "Severed Survival". I believe it's a censored version, but I actually like it more than the other. | Source
The cover artwork for "Consuming Impulse".
The cover artwork for "Consuming Impulse". | Source

Pestilence- Consuming Impulse (1989)

Perhaps the best thing about “Consuming Impulse” is how solid and intense it is. Pestilence is a Dutch band that formed in the late 80s. Martin van Drunen is one of the greatest death metal vocalists of all time. The album sounds a lot like “Leprosy” but with a greater thrash influence and a more intense vocalist. Despite being occasionally overshadowed by other bands and releases, “Consuming Impulse” remains one of my all time favorite albums by any death metal band. Pestilence is also one of the best bands to come out of the Netherlands, if not the absolute best. I’m not very familiar with their other work, but I’ve heard that they went downhill after this one. The best songs are: “Dehydrated”, “The Process of Suffocation”, “The Trauma”, “Chronic Infection”, and “Echoes of Death”.

The cool artwork for "Tales from the Thousand Lakes".
The cool artwork for "Tales from the Thousand Lakes". | Source

Amorphis- "Tales from the Thousand Lakes" (1994)

I wrestled with putting this album on here because it’s not pure death metal exactly, but it’s influential enough to be on this list. After a punishing death metal debut entitled “The Karelian Isthmus” (it’s a good album, too and much more reminiscent of true death metal), Amorphis created this masterpiece. There’s a lot of doom metal influence on it, and some folk influenced portions as well. What makes this album a little different from the others I mentioned is the heavy use of piano/keyboards and the careful attention to melody. There are also a few clean vocal passages scattered about. “Tales from the Thousand Lakes” was an influence on countless melodic death metal and folk metal bands that came afterwards and therefore deserves a place on my list. I absolutely love it. The best songs are: “Into Hiding”, “The Castaway”, “First Doom”, “Black Winter Day”, “Drowned Maid”, and “Magic and Mayhem”.

The album artwork for Death's "Scream Bloody Gore", widely considered the first death metal album.
The album artwork for Death's "Scream Bloody Gore", widely considered the first death metal album. | Source

In conclusion...

That’s my five essential death metal albums list. Because there are so many more great death metal releases out there, I feel it is necessary to include a list of some other great albums (and bands). Here it is:

· The entire Death discography.

· The entire Bolt Thrower discography.

· The entire Carcass discography.

· Autopsy- “Mental Funeral”

· Obituary-“Slowly We Rot” and “Cause of Death”

· Napalm Death- “Scum”

· Cannibal Corpse- “Eaten Back to Life” (that’s my favorite of theirs, but they’ve obviously got more essential albums).

· Suffocation- “Pierced from Within” and “Despise the Sun” (among others from them).

· Amorphis- “The Karelian Isthmus”

· Gorguts- “Considered Dead”, “The Erosion of Sanity”, and “Obscura” (very technical stuff).

· Cynic- “Focus” (experimental and progressive).

· Abhorrence- “Abhorrence EP”

· Carbonized- “For the Security”

· Massacre- “From Beyond”

· Morbid Angel

· Master

· Terrorizer

· Timeghoul

· Demilich

· Morgoth

…and many others.

As always, thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment and tell me your favorite death metal albums! Also, vote in the poll!

Which of these five albums is your favorite?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Best of the Best!



    • TheHeavyReview profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Probably so, I'd imagine that death metal could definitely sound better live. It has some of that thrash energy, especially in the old school bands like Obituary.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 

      6 years ago from The Garden State

      Yeah, it was killer. As I said, I'm not even much of a death metal guy (my brother is though - I went to the show with him) but they put on a killer show. When I got home I borrowed a couple of my bro's Obituary cassettes to see if I could dig'em but for some reason, they didn't do much for me on album. I guess there was just something about being there live and in person.

    • TheHeavyReview profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the comment! I can understand about the vocals, as I once didn't like them either. "Slowly We Rot" and "Altars of Madness" are definitely both classics, too. I'm sure Obituary are amazing live. John Tardy is one of the most vicious death metal vocalists out there. Hmm... Obituary opening for Sepultura... that sounds like an incredible concert.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 

      6 years ago from The Garden State

      Cool, man. I'm not much of a death metal guy myself (never cared for the WOOOOAAARRRRGH vocals) but I'd add Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness and Obituary's Slowly We Rot to this list.

      I saw Obituary years ago and they were an amazing live band... they blew the headliners (Sepultura) clean off the stage!!


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