Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that typically employs heavily distorted guitars, tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes. It emerged during the mid-1980s in spots around the world where extreme metal scenes were thriving (Florida, Sweden and the Netherlands), as fans became disillusioned with the traditional sounds of thrash metal and sought out more extreme variations.
Death metal has been described as “the most violent form of music ever created”, with bands such as Morbid Angel, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse becoming not only critical and commercial successes, but leaders in a largely underground movement.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal gained more mainstream attention as popular genre stalwarts such as Sepultura and Metallica released albums that drew on death metal influences (e.g., 1989’s Beneath the Remains and 1991’s self-titled album). Death metal has since experienced a resurgence in popularity, with bands such as Entombed, Necrophagist, Obituary and Behemoth gaining critical acclaim and a wider audience.
So without further ado, for all the fans of death metal, here are the 10 best death metal bands of all time:
1. Morbid Angel
The undisputed pioneers of death metal, Morbid Angel helped to define the genre with their debut album Altars of Madness in 1989. A tour de force of technical prowess and brutal songwriting, the album set a new standard for extreme metal that has yet to be matched. Over the course of their career, Morbid Angel have continued to push boundaries, innovating with each successive release and cementing their place as one of the all-time greats.
While Morbid Angel may have been the first death metal band, it was Death who perfected the formula. Formed in 1984 by Chuck Schuldiner, Death were initially a part of the thrash metal scene before evolving into the pioneers of the death metal sound. With a string of classic albums such as Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy and Human, Death proved that brutality and technicality could go hand-in-hand, creating some of the most influential and enduring death metal ever made in the process.
One of the most successful death metal bands of all time, Obituary helped to bring the genre to a wider audience in the early 1990s with their classic albums Cause of Death and The End Complete. A perfect blend of catchy hooks, crushing riffs and sheer brutality, Obituary’s music has stood the test of time, remaining as fresh and relevant today as it was when it was first released. With a new album on the way in 2017, Obituary show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Carcass are one of the most influential death metal bands of all time, responsible for popularising the goregrind subgenre with their 1991 album Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious. But it’s not just their gruesome subject matter that has earned Carcass a place in the annals of metal history – their music is also some of the most inventive and brilliantly executed death metal ever made. From the grindcore assault of Heartwork to the melodic majesty of Swansong, Carcass have always been a cut above the rest.
Sweden’s Entombed are one of the most important death metal bands of all time, responsible for popularising the so-called ” Stockholm sound” with their 1991 debut album Clandestine. A blend of death metal, hardcore punk and Swedish folk music, the album was a game-changer, paving the way for a new wave of Swedish death metal bands such as In Flames, At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity. Entombed have continued to evolve over the years, releasing a string of excellent albums that have cemented their place as one of the genre’s all-time greats.
6. Bolt Thrower
One of the most consistent and reliable death metal bands of all time, Bolt Thrower have been delivering crushingly heavy riffs and bone-jarring percussion for over 25 years. With a sound that is as brutal as it is catchy, Bolt Thrower have managed to find the perfect balance between head-banging heaviness and listenability, creating a body of work that is essential listening for any death metal fan.
One of the most technical and brutal death metal bands around, Suffocation have been pushing boundaries since their formation in 1988. With a sound that is defined by fast, frenzied riffing and guttural vocals, Suffocation’s music is not for the faint of heart – but for those who can stomach it, it is some of the most rewarding and extreme metal you will ever hear.
Poland’s Vader are one of the most prolific and consistent death metal bands around, having released a string of excellent albums over the course of their career. With a sound that is defined by fast, aggressive riffing and powerful drumming, Vader’s music is guaranteed to get your head banging – and with over 20 albums to their name, there is plenty of it to choose from.
One of the most technically proficient death metal bands around, Nile have been wowing fans and critics alike with their intricate, Egyptian-themed brand of extreme metal since their formation in 1993. With a sound that is as progressive as it is brutal, Nile’s music is not for the faint of heart – but for those who can stomach it, it is some of the most rewarding and extreme metal you will ever hear.
Poland’s Behemoth are one of the most controversial and polarising death metal bands of all time, thanks to their shocking stage shows and highly offensive lyrics. But love them or hate them, there is no denying that Behemoth are one of the most talented and extreme bands in the business, capable of creating music that is as brutal as it is beautiful. If you can stomach the shock factor, then Behemoth’s music is well worth checking out.