overground scene

My 10 favorite death metal albums from the united states

Every death metal fan should acknowledge the major effect of american death metal on all other death metal scenes around the world. One might love swedish death metal and the melancholy, bitterness and raw energy that comes with it. The same person might indeed hate american death metal and regard it empty and technocratic. However, it cannot be denied that the roots of every death metal band can be found in the legacy of Sarcofago, Sepultura, Master, Possessed, Atheist, Repulsion, Death, Massacre, Necrophagia, Autopsy, Celtic frost and Bathory. All of them, with the exception of Celtic frost and Bathory, are american.

The enormous continent has given birth to countless death metal bands. The american north is completely different from the south and the west is different from the east. The variations in the styles of death metal are, thus, many. However, it would not be oversimplifying to argue that some common elements can be found in american bands. American bands have tended to be the most brutal and technical.

What strikes me most about these early death metal bands is the diversity of styles. No band sounds like the other one and no singer sounds the  same. Back in the day, people wanted to sound furious and brutal to match the brutality of the music, so they opened their lungs and mouths and growled. What was coming out was one of a kind because every person has a different voice and shouts in different ways. There was no such thing as a death metal recipe, a formula that people followed in order to be “death metal”, which is the case with latter and contemporary death metal bands. Without further ado, here are some of my all time favorite death metal albums from the USA.

1. Massacre – From Beyond (1991)

fbI have not payed much attention to the massacre story, because it is complicated and I learned it a couple of years ago through the internet. When I listened to the album, the only thing I knew about it was that it was released in 1991. I did not care if they existed since 1921 or if they were the former band of Schuldiner or whatever. The album can easily be put in a spaceship and sent to space, as the true definition of death metal. The vocals are the most abominable vocals ever. The production is awesome. The compositions are simple, straightforward, heavy and emotionless. Most songs are uniquely majestic (e.g. Chambers of ages, Dawn of eternity). Indeed death metal has rarely been so majestic! Some of the topics are silly but very nicely written and the Lovecraft references are just awesome. Dawn of Eternity is the definitive hymn of death metal.

2. Death – Symbolic (1995)

616Symbolic is the ultimate musical achievement. After the excellent “Individual…”, Chuck happened to create the perfect combination of technique and emotion. Of course the surrounding musicians helped create this masterpiece, especially Hoglan, who has written the most appropriate, inspired and yet straightforward tempos ever. The drum work indeed requires special reference. All the songs with their awesome choruses, breaks, bridges and so on, are monumental. The interplay of guitar melodies and solos is unique. There are no best tracks here, just ideas and feelings in harmonious co-existence. Everything is perfect.

3. Immolation – Close to a world below (2000)

Immolation, to a large extent, pushed the boundaries of music further with their discography. I have to admit that choosing this particular album is random. All their discography is exquisite. For many years I considered “Here in After” being their best album. For some time I considered “Failures for gods”, and for some time “Unholy cult”. I decided to put this one here for several reasons. First of all, it has an awfully rotten and swampy production that fits Immolation perfectly. Secondly, the compositions are beyond imagination! Parts like the “you failed Mary, you raped Mary, over and over again…” are unbelievable. There are some amazing vocal patterns which render songs unique and memorable and the lyrics are compelling. Musically is one of the most depressing and mournful statements in the world. Immolation, along with Morbid Angel, redefine what music is.

4. Broken Hope – Grotesque Blessing (2000)

Broken hope is a huge and underrated band. Like Immolation and some other bands, they pushed the limits of death metal and music in general further. When you listen to Broken hope for the first time, you think “wait a minute…what did just happen here!”. These guys, not only are technical without becoming boring (because their music is highly emotional), but also are proposing alternative structural patterns to riff-making and lyric writing. All this, inside a context of utter disgust, brutality and anomaly! And their lyrics are not brainless words that make up no meaning. They are awesome! Read the lyrics to “Reunited” from the magnificent “Loathing” album, or “wolf among sheep” on this one! This album is my personal favorite and among the best american death records. I think that they reached the peak of their compositional inspiration, and achieved a perfect executional ability. R.I.P. Joe Ptacek.

5. Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding (1994)

What can one say about this album! The vocal interpretations should be carefully studied by anyone interested in singing death metal. Barnes moved away from the extreme guttural vocals he did on Tomb of the mutilated, toward more powerful and articulate vocals, coupled with his (now) trademark shrieks. The combination of hyper-guttural vocals and shrieks became the blueprint for the mid-nineties American brutal death metal scene. The guitar work is among the best ever, along with Suffocation. The guitar riffs, melodies and vocal patterns are extremely memorable. The bass is huge and along with the drums they create a wall of sound that crashes the listener! The fast songs are manic and the mid-paced songs are even better and heavier. The production is the best possible production for this music. Scott Burns is this band’s sixth member in this record! Without him, this album would not be so perfect.

6. Suffocation – Effigy of the forgotten (1991)

Suffocation is one of those bands who do their own thing from day one. And it sounds so natural, so non-pressured that makes you wonder what exactly these people were listening! Why are they so different from their peers? Why do they sound so professional even on their demos? With their first album they set a standard so high in Brutal death metal, that I don’t think anyone since 1991 managed to match. They introduced a novel type of riffing and, hence, guitar playing. They introduced the extremely heavy-swampy passages. They introduced the extreme guttural vocals. Finally they introduced extremely tight playing and, arguably, the blueprint for death metal drumming.

7. Autopsy -Mental Funeral (1991)

Autopsy set the atmosphere for swedish death metal with their demos and their first two albums. It doesn’t take a much experienced ear to realise the similarities between Autopsy and Dismember or Entombed. But Autopsy’s origins can be traced back to the swampy riffs and atmosphere of early Black Sabbath. Nevertheless, the nightmare visions that mental funeral evokes cannot be found anywhere in music. Interestingly enough, the sole reference I can think off, for riffs like Fleshcrawl, is the intro riff of Halloween by Helloween. This music is the spawn of utter disgust, sickness and death. Reiffert’s extremely flexible voice gives the impression of gagging and adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the album.

8. Obituary – Cause of Death (1990)

Obituary amazed everyone in 1989 with their brutal sound and with having a psychopath for singer. Tardy’s voice is, like with most early death metal singers, definitely one of a kind.  Although their first album is intense, brutal and awesome, it is their second album that shows a mature band with a vision. James Murphy’s addition was an excellent decision, since the solos on this album are chilling to the bone and mix perfectly with the terrifying music and production. I consider this album a cornerstone of American death metal, equal to From Beyond to define what American death metal is. It has a lot of everything. Flesh-ripping guitar riffs (Find the Arise), swampy crawling passages (Dying, Infected), aggressive moshing parts (Cause of death circa 1:36), violent mid-tempo passages and breakdowns (Chopped in half). The vocals are completely inhumane. When I was young I would imagine Tardy being confronted by a lion and eventually scaring it off.

9. Morbid Angel -Covenant (1993)

There are no words to describe Morbid Angel. They are a phenomenon of exceptional significance in world music. Although you see where they come from, and the marks of bands like Possessed and Celtic frost are all over them, still they are one of a kind. It would not be an overstatement that Morbid Angel discovered a new sound with this album. The music on God of Emptiness is simply unearthly. The more frantic but surgically executed songs like Pain divine, Rapture, the heaviness of The promised land with its monolithic break, all are just instances of grandeur and inspiration and reflections of the will and zest to be pioneers.

p.s. I listened to a few songs off the new Morbid Angel album and I am blown away!

10. Deicide – Legion (1992)

deicidelegioncoverAlthough their first album is another perfect example of unique death metal, this one is definitely my favorite. Deicide sounded like nobody else. Other bands might have been more brutal or faster, but deicide have always been the most intense and absolutely insane! Everything was insane about this band. The melodies, the breakdowns, the vocal partners, the solos, etc. I dare anyone to point out a chorus crazier than Carnage in the temple of the damned, from their self titled album. On this, their second album, Deicide are more mature but more intense (if that is possible) and faster. Riffs are more complicated and played at exhaustive speed. The slower songs are very catchy and have brilliant innovative tempos and vocal rhythms. In my opinion, every single song is amazing and although I’ve been listening to this album more than 15 years, it never ceases to amaze me with its ingenuity and sheer energy.

p.s. Of course, there are numerous other bands that deserved to be on this list such as Atheist, Monstrosity, Malevolent Creation, and even newer bands such as Dying Fetus, Deeds of Flesh, and so on, but this is a personal list where I tried to pick the albums that I have loved most over the years.


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[…] Swedish death metal albums. The time has come to revisit another list I wrote back in 2011, of my favourite death metal albums from the USA. Since 2011 when I wrote that list I have re-evaluated some of the albums I’ve been listening […]

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