Whether Death’s debut album Scream Bloody Gore, which came out on May 25, 1987, was the first ever death metal album is open to debate. Some say Possessed’s fierce, frantic, Seven Churches, which came out in 1985, takes the crown. Others point to Hellhammer’s 1984 EP Apocalyptic Raids. But one thing’s for sure -- from the point the band Mantas changed their name to Death and released their 1984 demo Death By Metal they became the reigning champions of death metal.

Fronted by the late Chuck Schuldiner, who sang and played all the bass and guitar at the time, Scream Bloody Gore surfaced when Death were in a state of transition. Chris Reifert – in his only album appearance with the band – played drums. Despite the internal instability, Schuldiner made sure that Death would be around for a while thanks to Scream Bloody Gore.

The album, which featured classic cover art by Ed Repka, was full of blast beats, relatively simple, repetitive riffs, incisive hooks, fiery leads and roaring vocals, all of which became early trademarks of the genre. Many of the songs opened with a deceptively mid-paced melodic intro before bursting into overdrive.

More than half of the songs on Scream Bloody Gore originally appeared in a more primitive form on the band’s demos; "Evil Dead" and "Beyond the Unholy Grave" were on 1984’s Death By Metal, "Infernal Death" and "Baptized in Blood" were from 1985’s Infernal Death and "Zombie Ritual, "Mutilation" and "Land of No Return" appeared on 1986’s Mutilation.

Unlike the band’s later work, which would take on a more complex technical death metal form partially influenced by jazz and prog rock, the tracks specifically written for Scream Bloody Gore -- “Denial of Life,” “Sacrificial,” “Regurgitated Guts,” “Torn to Pieces” and the title track -- aren’t structurally different from the group’s previously written material. But they’re just as visceral.

Maybe one reason the record sounds so tight and crushing is because Death were able (or forced) to record most of it twice. Originally, Schuldiner produced guitars and drums for the album in a small studio in Florida, but the band’s label Combat Records didn’t like the mix, so they flew the band to Los Angeles to re-record everything with Randy Burns. Also of note, the track “Sacrificial,” was originally called “Sacrificial C---” but Combat refused to release the album unless the Death changed the title.

Scream Bloody Gore was remastered and re-issued in 1999 with the bonus live tracks “Open Casket” and “Choke on It,” and came out again in 2008 with another concert cut, “Denial of Life.” In 2016, Relapse Records released a massively expanded triple-disc edition of the album, which included the original record as well as seven recordings from the original Florida session and 24 rehearsal demos. The release landed on the Billboard 200 at No. 174, marking the only time Death cracked the charts.

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen.

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