10 Best Death Metal Bands
When death metal got its foothold in the late 1980s, extreme metal was confusing and divisive. Initially a surge of music spawned from Slayer‘s ‘Reign in Blood’ and Napalm Death‘s grinding madness, bands started emerging in pockets all over the world. Each pocket had its own immediately recognizable style as they worked to define what is now unequivocal death metal.
As with most lists, 10 is too short to mention the slew of names that deserve recognition for spearheading and innovating the death metal genre. Here, we’re going to take a look at the bands who have done it the best over the course of their respective careers. Some death metal bands have been widely influential, but floundered after one or two albums.
What makes the following bands the best of the best is their influence, innovation, perseverance, evolution, and strength of their catalog. After the major label Giant Records signed Morbid Angel, they realized that death metal’s market had a ceiling. Though death metal, and extreme metal on the whole, has seemingly enjoyed more popularity and acceptance among metal fans today, it is still a niche genre where only the best truly rise to the top and stay there. While it was no easy task, here are our picks for the 10 Best Death Metal Bands:
California’s Autopsy took things in a new direction in the Bay Area. After years of being pummeled by the thrash scene, Chris Reifert and crew took the stripped down and filthy approach to death metal while incorporating doom elements to give their music a stark contrast. Reifert’s tortured vocals give Autopsy the haunting feel that has stuck with them throughout their career. With two early milestones in death metal, ‘Mental Funeral’ and ‘Severed Survival,’ Autopsy continue to pave their own way with their pioneering and influential style.
Polish death metal has an unmistakable sound to it, to which most of the credit can be given to Vader and their savage riffing. Bands like Decapitated and Behemoth would not exist if it weren’t for these death metal hounds. They’ve released some of the most relentless music in the genre, anchored by the late Doc’s artillery fire behind the kit. Piotr’s voice is one of the most unique growls that takes the albums ‘De Profudnis’ and ‘Litany’ to the next level.
Yes, Carcass originally started as a goregrind band, not strictly death metal. The band changed their style with each album, pioneering a new element of extreme metal, not once, but twice. ‘Symphonies of Sickness’ started leaning in a death metal direction to serve up a blend between grincore and death metal with a healthy scoop of gore. ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious’ was an exercise in midtempo death metal and ‘Heartwork’ saw the band break new ground again, spawning the melodic death metal genre. Bill Steer and Jeff Walker are one of the most influential writing combinations to hit the genre.
What started as pure Death worship became one of the most feral acts to ever grace the death metal scene. Mainman Luc Lemay in unparalleled in unconventional guitar playing, most evident by the polarizing album ‘Obscura.’ Gorguts have never made the same album twice, taking special care to craft something truly unique each time. The band’s footprints are etched into the death metal pantheon, setting the bar for the over-the-top technicality of modern death metal.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The adage has served Bolt Thrower well through the years, releasing album after album of punishing groove and brutality. After cementing their style with ‘Realm of Chaos’ in 1989, the British band has never strayed from the path, just strived to be better with each release. The theme of war is ever-prevalent and combined with the music, makes you feel like you’re driving a tank. Just be careful when you’re driving around town with ‘The IVth Crusade’ maxing out your car speakers.
Ross Dolan and Bob Vigna have been churning out their virulent, blasphemous death metal with Immolation for over 20 years. Watching Vigna play guitar is like being an apprentice blacksmith watching the master at work, putting his tools to use in ways you never thought possible. His technique is one that is all his own, creating sheer chaos as Dolan’s bellowing barks help the band crack the earth’s surface for the fires to rise on ‘Here in After’ and ‘Close to a World Below.’
Morbid Angel founder Trey Azagthoth is the Tony Iommi of death metal. His knack for writing earth-heaving riffs is undeniable, especially after one listen of ‘Maze of Torment’ or ‘The Lion’s Den.’ Morbid Angel have contributed some of the most definitive death metal albums since helping the genre to get its foothold in the late 1980s. The band were also the first death metal band to ink a major label deal with ‘Covenant,’ which went on to be the highest selling death metal album as of 2003.
There’s something about New York that created some of the genre’s heaviest bands. Anyone who has seen Suffocation can offer a testimony to the band’s devastating live assault. The band simultaneously pioneered brutal and technical death metal with maze-like song structures, percussive drumming, and Frank Mullen’s ultra-low gutturals. Suffocation’s mission statement when forming the death metal outfit was to be the heaviest band in the world, and with albums like ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ and ‘Pierced From Within,’ who can deny their claim?
Cannibal Corpse have enjoyed two distinctly different eras of massive success. The first era is defined by Chris Barnes’ vividly graphic lyrics and signature growls. He helped put the band on the map with lyrics that went on to become a staple of the genre, with ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ being the most infamous. Following his exit from Cannibal Corpse, George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher took over and kept the band on top. Known for their precise guitar playing and the bass-wizardry of Alex Webster, Cannibal Corpse have never disappointed.
The band that is credited with starting it all not only helped to define the beginning of the genre, but were constant innovators of the style. Death’s influence has been felt through all of death metal, whether it’s the raw approach of ‘Leprosy,’ the subtle technicality of ‘Human,’ the riff-oriented ‘Symbolic,’ or the hyper-melodic ‘Sound of Perseverance’ which saw outside genre influences creep into the music. Chuck Schuldiner kept the wheels turning, never stagnating, and constantly one move ahead of everyone else.