In the early to mid-1980s, heavy-metal music began to broaden beyond the first era of bands such as Maiden, Priest and Dio. It evolved into darker, faster territories with thrash metal like Slayer, Exodus, Kreator and many others.
A somewhat new phenomena began to root itself in an even more extreme sound of the music — today, we call it death metal. Music from this subgenre of metal is certain to contain demonic, inhuman growls and shrieks, blast beat drum patterns, heavy bass lines and speed-metal guitar-shredding madness. The lyrics and sound are often centered around gore, suffering, Satanism, evil, wars, criminality, philosophy, horror movies, the occult, mythology and even ancient history.
What makes death metal so powerful to many fans is its versatility. It can blend well into any other genre of metal seamlessly; it has had a part in the formation and inspiration of many black metal, grindcore, doom metal and experimental bands across the globe. We know there's an almost infinite list of bands to chose from, but after hours of headbanging, and a pair of blown-out eardrums, we decided on the best 10 death-metal bands.
Formed by three brothers from Brazil in the early '90s, this tightly knit, mechanical-sounding metal unit still creates some of the most insanely wicked, loud and brutal music known to the extreme metal scene. If you love ferocious singing, then vocalist-bassist Alex Camargo's hellish, guttural and ultra-deep vocals will definitely be your cup of tea. In conjunction with the super-crisp, monstrous guitar riffs, and drums that take center of the sound with the speed of a chainsaw, Krisiun, which also features guitarist Moyses Kolesne and drummer Max Kolesne, unleashes an epic, apocalyptic breed of death metal that ravages listeners, leaving them wanting more each time. The band has toured the planet with the best of death-metal bands, many on this list. With more than 10 full-length albums, including 2015's Forged in Fury, Krisiun remain a central force in the extreme-metal community.
This Polish death-metal group formed in 1996 when guitarist Vogg and his drummer brother Vitek formed the base of a band as young teens. Over the first years, after tons of hard work, the band created the 2000 album Winds of Creation (Earache Records), when Vogg was only 17 and Vitek only 15. Since then, Decapitated have become highly respected for their stamina onstage and for bringing a brutal technical sound to the table. But In 2007, the band faced a horrific tragedy while on tour near Russia, where drummer Vitek was killed in a van accident. Devastated, the band seemingly was done, but in 2009, Vogg reformed the band and, with a new lineup, released two albums: Carnival Is Forever (2011) and Blood Mantra (2014), which keep the spirit and exceptional talent of drummer Vitek alive with a sound that is out of this world in its technical and pristine approach to death metal.
Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Obituary came up during a time when the city's local death-metal scene was new but on fire in 1984. After a brief period of being known as Executioner, the band's name was changed and Obituary was born out of the darkness. Vocalist John Tardy's unmistakable, throaty growl sounds like an animal being tortured. The heavy bass and a groove also set them apart from other bands. This slowed-down style became a part of Obituary's trademark sound. The band's debut album, Slowly We Rot (1989), is a genre classic with a murky, bass-heavy and electrified sound that few bands can re-create but many try to emulate. Like others who helped forge the genre, Obituary are far from dead, with a heavy touring schedule; their latest release is Inked in Blood (2014).
7. Morbid Angel
As one of the first American death-metal bands, Tampa-based Morbid Angel have been around for more than 25 years. Despite some lineup changes, the band has constantly included guitar wizard Trey Azagthoth. It did at one time feature drummer Pete Sandoval, but the most recent lineup of the band featured guitarist Destructhor, bassist/vocalist David Vincent and drummer Tim Yeung. Over the years, the band gained notoriety for its videos, an appearance on Beavis and Butt-head and tours around the world. Also, they titled their albums alphabetically: Altars of Madness (1989), Blessed Are the Sick (1991), Covenant (1993), Domination (1995) and four more, including the 2011 release, Illud Divinum Insanus.
What does South Carolina have to do with ancient Egypt? Nothing, until you delve into the majestic, phenomenal and brutal music of Nile, a band that has proven the scariest, fastest sounds of death metal don't always have to be about serial killers, corpses, blood and zombies but pharaohs, pyramids, tombs and other relics and mysticism from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Formed by mastermind guitarist Karl Sanders, a fascination with Egyptology gives this band a identity all its own among its extreme-metal peers. Nile's place in death metal should not be overlooked, and with millions of fans and albums sold worldwide, the band has held onto a legacy that will, like Egypt, be immortal in the pages of history, with eight albums, including this year's What Should Not Be Unearthed.
An NYC unit formed in the late '80s that always brings us the kind of heavy music ideal to break someone's nose in the slam pit. The blast beats are perfected on albums like Breeding the Spawn, along with the shriek of inhuman vocalist Frank Mullen, whose sputtering hand movements embody the speed of the music.
Deicide have been draped in the darkness of the devil since they started in the mid-'80s. The band's name means “killing of a god.” Led by bassist and vocalist Glen Benton, this is music Lucifer would love. Benton's tortured, anguished style of vocals and lyrics for Deicides' songs has been dedicated toward bashing anything having to do with God. Benton was known early on as a crazy motherfucker. Years of rumors about the band included animal sacrifices at shows, devil worship and self-mutilation. Benton does have one real scar to prove he is legit: an inverted cross on his forehead that was branded on years ago. Today, Benton is more of a father and metal businessman, taking Deicide on tour or recording most of the year while juggling a family and living a semi-normal life. After a dozen studio albums, the band is still as fast and evil-sounding as ever, and although Benton might have calmed down, his music with the band is unrepentant.
3. At the Gates
This is an extreme-metal band of Swedish melodic masters, whom many consider to be the architects of the classic Gothenburg death-metal sound. This fast, beautifully orchestrated sound highlights the beauty of suffering and melody, covering themes like suicide and morbidity. At the Gates have a clear, sometimes polished sound mixed with the very anguished vocals of Tomas Lindberg. The band was active in the '90s but broke up in 1996, within a year or so after the release of the band's classic record, Slaughter of the Soul. But, around a decade later, the band re-formed due to popular demand. With a new album, At War With Reality (2014), they are conquering the touring circuit again to many pleased fans around the globe.
Known to many as the forefathers and inventors of death metal, Florida's Death were formed in the early '80s by a young, visionary metal guitarist, Chuck Schuldiner. Into the '90s the band underwent many lineup changes, but Schuldiner remained as the leading force behind the music. Initially formed as a band obsessed with zombies, blood and gore, Death eventually became a more philosophical, psychologically themed band, based on human suffering and emotions rather than the undead. The music itself progressed into a sound that bent the lines between death metal, progressive metal, metal and thrash, and solidified Schuldiner's role as one of the most crucial songwriters, musicians and vocalists of his era. Sadly, in 2001, at the age of 34, Schuldiner died of complications from a brain tumor. But with eight studio albums and many metal musicians who have worked with Schuldiner, in one way or another, the legacy and influence of Death is sure to live on.
1. Cannibal Corpse
These guys are hands down the undisputed kings of death metal. Featuring vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, bassist Alex Webster and guitarists Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett, the band's blood-soaked career spans more than a quarter of a century and 13 studio albums (including the latest release, A Skeletal Domain), making them one of the most successful and best-selling extreme-metal bands. Cannibal Corpse's music, both records and live performances, has been banned in several countries. The music, artwork, lyrics and song titles have shocked, sickened and angered many, and instigated many more mosh pits and head-banging/neck-twirling sessions. Cannibal Corpse has toured the globe, sold well over a million albums, and even appeared in the hit movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, starring Jim Carrey, who is a huge fan.
Today, the band shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, and is getting faster and more brutal as time goes on. The band's popularity is also on the rise, especially among younger fans seeking heavier, more extreme music. In terms of the very dark, violent, raging and twisted nature of the music, even the older albums, with original singer and lyricist Chris Barnes, still scare people with a sound that might be imagined as a musical autopsy.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.