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A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal #8 - Death Metal

Updated on November 8, 2015

A Legacy of Brutality

In the sunny state of Florida, beneath the hot sun and heavy humidity, two thrash bands who had become just as legendary for their manic and sometimes violent stage shows as for their extremely fast and loud music (Savatage and Nasty Savage), were beginning to form the breeding ground for what would become the most extreme form of metal, both lyrically and musically, that the world had ever seen. Officially launched by metal mastermind and guitar wizard Chuck Schuldiner with his band Death, and named after a song by bay area thrash band Possessed, death metal has gone on to become a musical form that has had some of the most rabid fans to support it and harshest critics that any genre has ever had to endure.



Darkthrone - Soulside Journey

Although nowadays Norway, and Darkthrone especially, are known for bringing about the second wave of black metal, not everyone remembers that Darkthrone began as a death metal band following in the wake of the Florida death metal movement. And while their black metal work is without question some of the greatest and most defining works to have come out of the bleak underground that is Norwegian black metal, had they continued as a death metal band, based on the amazing quality of this album, I'm fairly certain they would have become a pretty successful band regardless.

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Hate Eternal - King of all Kings

One of the most powerful and unrelentingly brutal death metal albums to have come out in the 2000s, this massively devastating force of metal was put together by ex-Morbid Angel guitarist Erik Rutan and continues to be a fine example for modern death metal bands to look up to, upholding the best traditions of the classics.

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Nile - Ithyphallic

Without question the most fascinating death metal band in terms of their lyrics, this band combines all of the heaviness we know and love with lyrical stories based around Egyptian mythology, even putting details about said lyrics to provide context in most of their album inserts. This album, unfortunately, is one of the few that lacks this information, but makes up for it by showing better than anything else why they are one of the most musically respected death metal bands around today.



Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten

Many people regard suffocation as one of the bands that helped to keep death metal alive in the late 90s, and while they have definitely earned that respect, their greatest achievement in my opinion is their monstrous 1991 debut. Considered to be one of the first examples of technical death metal, this album also has one of my favorite album covers of all time.

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Job For a Cowboy - Doom EP

I may be stretching a little bit for this as it is just an EP, but perhaps no single release has had as much influence on the modern sound of death metal as this one. The sound effect laden and relentlessly chugged guitar work and Jonny Davy's vocals, putting forth what has become known as "pig-squeal" growls, have been duplicated and mimicked by countless deathcore, metalcore, and death metal bands since it's release.

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Obituary - Cause of Death

One of the biggest criticisms of death metal is that the vocals sound like they are just being grunted and not containing actual lyrics. This is the band that you can all thank for this, as vocalist John Tardy has openly admitted some of his singing has just been wordless growls. That doesn't take away from the fact that this is a phenomenal offering of brutal metal as well as helping to add some melody to the speed and brutality.

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Deicide - Legion

Very possibly the most blasphemous recording ever released. Founder, vocalist and bassist Glenn Benton, forged a sound that can best be described as Slayer on steroids, and has made it a point to be as controversial to religious groups and self appointed professional moralists as he possibly can, going as far as to burn an upside cross into his forehead. This is one of the fastest albums I ever heard, rumored to have been slowed down from where it originally was just to make it full album length.

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Morbid Angel - Covenant

The first ever death metal album to be released on a major label, consequently becoming the highest selling death metal album to date this is the album I usually recommend to someone who has never listened to death metal before. It is the perfect mix of fast heavily distorted guitar work, growled vocals, and virtuosic guitar work courtesy of Trey Azagthoth, a man frequently ranked as one of the fastest guitarists in the world.

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Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated

Morbid Angel may be who I recommend, but this is the one you likely have already heard before, if you've ever seen the move "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective". That band in the earlier part of the movie? That was these guys, performing the opening track of this album "Hammer Smashed Face". And that is just a sampling of unrelenting nature and universally controversial lyrics and album art that has permeated Cannibal Corpse's career from day one. This one is a must.



Death - Leprosy

This was the one I had the hardest time choosing. Death founded death metal, vocalist and guitarist Chuck Schuldiner is the most revered name in the sub-genre and is also one of the most respected guitarists in history. I could have included any of their albums as the most important death metal album, but in the end, no album combines the intense lyrics, brutal music, ear piercing vocals, and shredding guitar work as their sophomore release. If you ever want to just sample death metal, see if it's for you, this is the one to start with.

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Honorable Mention:


Yes, this is the Dethklok from Adult Swim's "Metalocalypse", and despite the comedic nature of their lyrics, all three of their currently released albums musically are some prime cuts of melodic death metal. This actually was the first death metal band I ever purchased an album of.

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The Beatings Continue

Death metal has since splintered off into a multitude of further sub-genres, but in the end, nothing will get the job done like straight forward old school death metal. It is the genre that took me the longest to really get into, but nowadays I will stand by it until the end.


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