Chevalier – A Call To Arms

Good raw speed metal  has been popping up more and more in the last few years, but this is certainly one of the best of the bunch that I’ve heard recently. Chevalier hearken back to many of my favorite classic USPM and international (particularly French) speed metal bands while forging their own sound entirely with big melodies, fast rhythms (with a few slower points that just make the rest of A Call To Arms hit that much harder), and a constant pounding drum beat in the background. Recorded in a rehearsal room, the “demo’s” lack of polish is stunningly charming, and makes for an interesting offset to the tightness of the entire performances, and speaks very, very deeply to my taste in heavy and speed metal.

This is a real guitarist’s album to me, with every song being chock full of tight solos that come in and out of the performance, popping up and then vanishing just as quickly, and with unexpected leads coming in and out of the rhythms constantly. Sometimes everything but the guitars drop out entirely, leaving only powerful and consciously medieval sounding leads to enrapture listeners, and every careful listen reveals new guitar parts that I missed on the previous listen. Despite the central focus on guitarwork, other aspects are far from ignored- the drumming is extremely competent, and the bass is audible and well done. There are some fantastic grooves where the two lock in together to great effect, and vocalist Emma Grönqvist fills everything out wonderfully from her place at the backseat of the recording; the choice to keep her mixed somewhat to the bottom of the mix both makes for a really cool effect and keeps her from overwhelming the absolutely fantastic riffing that makes the release so damn cool. There really aren’t any choruses in the traditional sense of the word, and that’s also a cool point to me- the whole thing is a showcase of unrelenting, uncompromising prowess, a love letter to speed metal and to heavy metal that gives me the shivers. I’m very much looking forward to more material, and hoping that the band’s plan of releasing the demo on vinyl at some point is realized. Until then, I’ll wait eagerly for the tape version to come out.

Listen and buy

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Perdizione / Nihtglóm – split

I’ve been finding it hard to nail down exactly what I love so much about this split, but it really tickles me on a level that’s hard to put into words. Coming from obscure New Jersey metal cult Nihil Verum Nisi Mors, this split is at its most basic level a presentation of two anonymous one-man projects of  simple and sinister raw black metal. Though it’s a split, both sides tie together sonically, filling out a package that’s been filling a hole in my listening that I didn’t realize existed.

To start with Perdizione’s side: the whole thing is extremely muffled and distant in the best of ways, pounding its fury through a layer of reverb and separation that gives the project an ethereal feel. The wonderfully simple drums drive along melodic riffs that range from unconventional melodic lines that are almost hard to identify as black metal without the context of the rest of the music to more traditional trem bits, the entire thing being as hypnotizing an affair as I’ve ever heard, whether it’s carrying you through one of the more traditional bits or through the cool solo towards the end of Diavolo Odioso’s side; Perdizione carries you off to a dream, and the darkness of the project, supposedly about Catholic hell, is as rapturous as anything the Catholics ever wanted you to feel about their god.

Nihtglóm’s side immediately stands out as being much more direct in its gloomy attack, with much less distant production and a much more straightforward take on black metal, though it doesn’t suffer at all for it. Another thing that immediately stands out is that the bass is absolutely massive, sometimes playing the rhythm by itself and sometimes playing alongside the melodies, as much at the forefront as the guitar. The melodies that Nihtgenga, author of Nihtglóm’s music, creates are huge and captivating, endlessly catchy for all of their evil. Where Perdizione makes me throw back my head and worship, Nihtglóm makes me move it, as his side of the split is much more aggressive, marking a perfect counterpart to the dreaminess of the first half of the tape. Tasteful drumming ranges from blistering double bass to laid back single beats, carrying listeners to the depths of the cold night.

I’m really hoping to hear more from these two, because this tape has really blown me away, and left me with a deep craving for more.

Listen

Buy

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Engulfed – Engulfed in Obscurity

Engulfed in Obscurity is the debut album from longtime scene veterans Engulfed, all of whom have been in Engulfed and other bands for the long years leading up to this spectacular album. Massive and multifaceted, Engulfed take cues from Incantation and Dead Congregation to bring a long and harrowing death metal assault that stays as focused and punishing from the moment of conception until the very end. Massive tremolo picked rhythms play against quick melodic lines that sometimes harmonize with the rhythms and sometimes dart off to do their own things, and Diabolical Conquest-esque harmonized slower bits of trilling doom make for a good counterpart to the blazing tempos that the album sometimes reaches towards.

Though the album is fairly straightfoward in its style, the delivery is anything but, with the band doing their best to keep both guitars from playing the exact same notes for longer than a bar or two and with no riff being repeated more than a few times. Frequent tempo changes and jumps from melodicism to punishment are extremely compelling, and vocalist/bassist Serkan’s powerful howling adds an extra demonic flair to the mix. The drumming, though locked into a few similar patterns, changes up tempo and moves back and forth from pattern to pattern enough to keep from ever getting stale, driving everything forth wonderfully, and the drums are mixed excellently (save for perhaps a tiny bit of clickiness at points in the kick, which is a very minor issue on this album), which is always something that I listen to.

Overall, especially for a debut, I can only call this album a massive success, and say that I’m already looking forward to the EP that the band promises is coming next year.

Listen and buy (Hellthrasher Productions)

Listen and buy (Blood Harvest Records)

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Image source: Blood Harvest Records

Completely Vulgar: An Introduction To Finnish Death Metal

Known by many for having punishing low end, strange rhythms, and off-kilter melodies, the Finnish death metal scene has been revered for years as one of the best around in the early ’90s, and a fair amount of bands since then have incorporated its “signature” sound into their own. While not all of the bands from Finland in that time period ever actually sounded particularly similar or in-line with what people think of, there was a lot of amazing stuff out there, and this post will attempt to serve as an introduction to that scene.

Some starting notes: despite the fact that I did say that there wasn’t necessarily a particular Finnish death metal sound, when people think of that scene, they tend to think of what I described in the first paragraph, so that is what I’ll be drawing comparisons to when I reference a band as having “the Finnish sound.” Additionally, I will be mentioning a lot of scene incest, as many members of these bands jumped around to many others within the scene; while this isn’t particularly useful information for a primer, I enjoy that sort of trivia greatly, so it will be included here where I deem it relevant. Finally, I want to say that while I mostly focused on albums and EPs, almost all of these bands have good demos that are well worth getting, and most of them won’t be specifically mentioned here; that doesn’t mean that they’re not recommended, and you should hit all of them.

I’m making an effort to post to official streams of as many of these as possible- in particular, bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. In cases where there is nothing, well, time to turn to discogs, YouTube, and Spotify!

First-tier essentials: These are the bands to hit if you’ve never listened to Finnish death metal. These aren’t necessarily my favorites (though many are), but they’re the most popular and influential albums from that scene. No particular order.

Abhorrence: One of the most influential bands ever to only exist for a single calendar year, Abhorrence released only two official releases before breaking up, with a split coming the year after. Their sound was a major kickstarter for the Finnish scene, and several of the earliest bands (including most notably Amorphis and Adramelech) covered songs from Abhorrence’s 1990 self-titled EP and from their demo from the same year. Putrid, primitive, and with a horrifying atmosphere to rival any band on the planet, Abhorrence mixed relatively straightforward but devastating massive rhythmic assaults with the terrifying melodies and doom-laden passages that would come to define the Finnish death metal sound to many people. Recently reformed and put out a stellar live album from a performance in 2013 this year. After breaking up, members would go on to form and join bands such as Amorphis and Impaled Nazarene. Abhorrence is a personal favorite of mine in the scene, and a big influence as a fan of death metal and as a musician. Recommended listening: Completely Vulgar (Compilation)
Bandcamp

Sentenced: Even before moving away from death metal, Sentenced leaned more towards death metal’s thrash roots and towards melodicism than many of their counterparts, with equal parts of the clotting atmosphere of Abhorrence or Funebre to the similarities in composition to be drawn to Dismember or Death. While they had already abandoned the signature sound of the Finnish scene by their second album, their debut and the demos before it are amazing. They’re among the most famous of the Finnish death metal bands, along with Amorphis, though they shifted from death metal to melodic death metal and further afield over the years following their debut. The bass player and backing vocalist from their first album briefly provided the same roles for Impaled Nazarene as well- though he was only with them for a few years, he was on all of the best Impaled Nazarene material. Recommended listening: Shadows of the Past

Amorphis: Originally an unrefined and vicious extension of primitive death metal along the lines of rhythm guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari’s previous band, Abhorrence, Amorphis rejected simple brutality and slowed to a crawl on their first full length, The Karelian Isthmus, featuring some of the foremost death/doom of the early ’90s, Finnish or otherwise; sophisticated and massive, the album stands as their last release that would qualify for this primer aside from an EP that was original supposed to be released before the album ever came out (as a split with Incantation, though that never materialized). Art from their debut stands out as one of the few Miran Kim pieces featured on a death metal cover that wasn’t an Incantation album. Later material would become increasingly progressive and almost immediately removed from death metal. Much of the band played together in a thrash band before forming Amorphis. Recommended listening: The Karelian Isthmus, Privilege of Evil
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Convulse: One of the earliest Finnish bands to put out a full length. World Without God stands out as a codifier of the Finnish sound; bass heavy and with alternating heavy riffs and melodies, it’s everything that the majority of the scene tried to be, and before almost everyone else to boot. The album is much more straightforward than what some of Convulse’s contemporaries were attempting but no less the killer for it; while it’s not one that I’d rank among my favorites from the Finnish scene, it’s absolutely essential and still a fantastic listening experience. Recommended listening: World Without God
Bandcamp

Demigod: Skull crushing riffs with one of the heaviest rhythm sections from the scene, some of the best moments of gorgeous melody, and a mystical atmosphere that leaves most of their countrymen in the dust. Syncopated rhythms, sections of noxious crawling horror, faster melodic sections and trem lines, and some wonderfully soaring leads over the heavy rhythms that were laid down by the guitarists not playing any. Slumber of Sullen Eyes is truly a lesson in imparting grace into death metal, and is my personal favorite full length release to come from the amazing Finnish death metal scene, as well as my favorite album to ever be released featuring three guitarists. The drummer from Slumber of Sullen Eyes would later join Adramelech, recording some great material with them. Recommended listening: Slumber of Sullen Eyes
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Depravity: Wretched, twisted, vile. Ripping solos, strange melody, infectious leads, and a wonderful spacey atmosphere. Depravity lived for far too short of a time, but in that time managed to put out some of the most interesting songs from the scene; the unusual and ethereal production on their material (likely as not a product of inexperience and a low budget rather than anything intentional) suits their catchy riffing and melodies extraordinarily well. In an interesting sidenote, half of the band went on to form various crappy folk metal and power metal bands years after Depravity initially dissolved. Recommended listening: Silence of the Centuries (Compilation)

Demilich: One of the most absolutely bizarre bands to come from the Finnish death metal scene, Demilich remained an obscure favorite of only the most devout, hardcore death metal fans for many years until the internet caused a fortunate wave of interest in the band. Far ahead of their time, Demilich was wonky and technical, with a completely unique vocalist you’ll have to hear for yourself to believe. Currently reformed (though not for the first time- some of their best material was from a brief reformation in the mid-’00s) and playing gigs around the world, and doing it fantastically at that- I was fortunate enough to see them at California Deathfest last year and they killed it. Recommended listening: 20th Adversary of Emptiness (Compilation)
Bandcamp

Second tier classic bands: Not as objectively important as the previously listed bands, but still all great. Some personal favorites here, and a good few bands broken up too soon. No particular order. This one is rooted in a mixture of personal preferences (which obscure bands do I include?) as well as with importance.

Adramelech: While Adramelech didn’t put out a full length until 1996, they were active from 1991 and put out two demos and an absolutely stellar EP by 1992. More technically proficient at times than most other early Finnish bands and with that same bent for the weird without ever forgetting that death metal is fundamentally an exercise in punishment and not one in showing off. They remain one of the more popular bands from that scene aside from ones that later strayed from death metal.
Recommended listening: The Spring of Recovery, Psychostasia
Bandcamp

Cartilage: Strange mournful atmosphere, deranged and odd rhythms, and extreme variances in tempo make for one of my favorite bands from the Finnish death metal scene. Didn’t do much other than a couple of demos and a split, unfortunately, but that split is one of the best in death metal history entirely on the strength of Cartilage’s side of it. Recommended listening: The Fragile Concept of Affection (expanded edition) Bandcamp

Funebre: Another of the very earliest death metal bands to come out of Finland. Started off very straightforward and had started moving towards death metal insanity of a less straightforward variety with their debut before breaking up shortly thereafter. Recommended listening: Children of the Scorn
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Phlegethon: Extremely long winded death metal often leaning towards mystical thrash, with bizzarre rhythms constantly battling with inventive leads that keep any of their material from ever getting dull. Though they broke up and formed multiple times, they never managed to put out an album. Several members from Phlegethon would later go on to play in Hooded Menace. Recommended listening: Drifting in the Crypt (compilation)

Mordicus: With a much more prominent bass and more melody than many of their counterparts, Mordicus stands out among most of the rest of the bands on this list as sounding less immediately in line with their peers; some fans call them Swedish death metal from Finland, and that’s not entirely far off. Recommended listening: Dances From Left

Agonized: Heavy, mid-paced, and rotting. Pummeling with the standard Finnish low end. Recommended listening: Gods…
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Rippikoulu: Some of the heaviest death/doom to ever be made, and a massive personal favorite of mine. Terrifyingly crushing, Rippikoulu is a wave of molten lava sweeping over you, monstrous and trudging. Recommended listening: Musta seremonia
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Disgrace: Groovy and nasty, Disgrace sounded more like Carcass than Abhorrence or Adramelech. Absolutely disgusting and incredibly fun stuff. Before passing away, the vocalist/guitarist featured on their early recordings left Disgrace and joined the legendary Xysma. Recommended listening: Debts of God, Grey Misery

Purtenance: Rotting, crushing death metal that shows a lot of what the Finnish scene was the best known for. Heavy bass presence, crushing trem lines, ripping fast sections and slow, doom laden ones; off kilter rhythms occasionally flirt with weird melodies, but for the most part this is one of the more straight forward bands from the scene as well as one of the first bands to be a part of it. After their dissolution in 1992, Purtenance’s former lead guitarist went on to briefly play with Convulse. Recommended listening: Crown Waits the Immortal, Member of Immortal Damnation
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Xysma: Increasingly weird goregrind. Started off with their earliest demo material as completely straight-played death/goregrind and with each release spiraled out of control. Wacky and insane, Xysma encapsulated a lot of the general attitude of a certain type of weird Finnish death metal band without really sounding like any of them, and strayed away from extreme metal as a band as the rest of the scene was starting to come together. Recommended listening: everything before and including the debut album

Belial: Black/death notable not only for its quality but for having three members that were either a part of Impaled Nazarene or would soon be a part of Impaled Nazarene as of the recording of their debut. Regularly sliding from blasting fast changes to groovy, mid-paced, and repetitive, Belial felt as often like a heavy metal band playing at death metal as an actual extreme metal band, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Recommended listening: Never Again, Wisdom of Darkness

Mythos: Shared a member with Belial. Mythos is a bit more black metal leaning than Belial, but is related enough and killer enough to be worth mentioning. Catchy and full of big trem riffs, Pain Amplifier is a testament to its name. Recommended listening: Pain Amplifier

Interment: Cool and strange lead-heavy grooving death metal featuring a founding member from Funebre. One of my favorite bands from the scene to never release an album. Recommended listening: Life Here After (compilation)
Bandcamp

Wings: Though they didn’t endure long as a band (and even less time as a death metal one, abandoning the genre after their first EP to mixed success), Wings made incredibly catchy and driving death metal that strung together fairly disparate passages of high-paced and entertaining material along with sections of atmospheric and miserable ones, and the frequent tempo changes linked together only by the barest of transitions feels almost bipolar in the best of ways. Keyboards, sudden spoken word parts, and a desire to throw everything you know about death metal under the bus make you really wish that they had done more. Notably, two founding members started Wings from the ashes of Cartilage, who Wings sound very much like, and one of said members would go on to play in a string of extremely popular bands (some better than others). Recommended listening: Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

Anguish:: One of the earlier Finnish death metal bands to experiment with the standard death metal mold, Anguish were massive and hateful with some interesting ideas and twists on the genre ranging from the innovative, such as their idea of overlaying clean acoustic guitars over harsh death metal, to the merely odd, with a lot of stilted rhythms that sound years ahead of their time. Some sections speed up to be almostly absurdly faster than their slowest parts, and Anguish never let up on their fans for a second, whether playing slow or fast- everything is heavy, everything is powerful, and everything is great. Absolute travesty that they broke up after their first EP. Recommended listening: Ground Absorbs

Carrying the torch- the most important newer bands: This section of bands from after the early/mid-’90s is a mixture of some of the more popular names in modern Finnish death metal as well as some of my own less-popular favorites.

Slugathor: The shortest possible description of Slugathor is that they were Finland’s Bolt Thrower. Punishing staccato rhythms and fast melodic leads interplay, with most of the material being mid-paced and groovy variations on chugging or galloping low end riffs. Melodies range from Dismember to Demigod to Bolt Thrower, and fantastic drumming interplays well with the heavy rhythm section. One of the absolute best and most missed Finnish bands of the ‘00s, though their legacy lives on in the many projects of their former members. Recommended listening: Unleashing the Slugathron, Circle of Death, Echoes From Beneath
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Vorum: Hailing from the Åland Islands, Vorum rely on a mixture of heavy Swedish and Finnish influences to crush, tremelo, and doom their listeners to death. Heavy syncopated rhythms, dissonant trem lines, big basswork, and an absolutely vicious vocalist make Vorum a great listening experience. Their vocalist/guitarist also currently plays bass for the savage Swedish giants Degial. Recommended listening: Grim Death Awaits, Poisoned Void
Bandcamp

Stench of Decay: Often fast, always aggressive, and riddled with cool melodies and harmonies, Stench of Decay is a driving beast that doesn’t do much new but delivers a depressingly sparse discography of incredibly catchy and memorable callbacks to Finland circa 1992. Deep and powerful vocals sink over heavy rhythms and leads, and a wide variety of songwriting keeps everything moving forward smoothly. Recommended listening: Stench of Decay (compilation)

Hooded Menace: Originally started off as a death/doom take on the classic Candlemass songs- big riffs, big melodies, big vocals, all through the lens of a morbid lust for death and horror. Though the earlier material was a fairly straightforward take on that sound (albeit a fucking crushing one), in the last couple of years Hooded Menace has started incorporating a lot of the strangeness and long-form heavy melodies that some of the scene in Finland has been known for, trading plodding five minute crushers for ten minute epics. Incredible band, and a fairly prolific one, with four full lengths and a slew of splits and EPs since their formation in 2007, including a new split already out this year and another one coming soon! Recommended listening: Everything.
Bandcamp

Claws: One of the many projects that Lasse Pyykkö has been involved in, and one of the few that he has embarked in entirely alone. Claws shares far more in common with Crematory than the classic sounds of the Finnish death metal scene, though Pyykkö didn’t entirely forsake the melodic style of the Demigod and their ilk. Recommended listening: Absorbed in the Nethervoid, The Funeral Barge
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Ascended: Ranging between slow, atmospheric, and chunky to blasting aggression, Ascended has a lot of great dissonant leads and layered guitarwork. Shares a member with Stench of Decay- Tommi, the vocalist, is SoD’s bassist. Definitely one of the more interesting and unique modern Finnish death metal bands, with a very personal take on the famous classic sound without feeling like a total clone of any particular band. It’s a real shame that they haven’t put anything out in years. Recommended listening: The Art Of Necromancy, Temple of Dark Offerings
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Newer bands, second-tier: These bands are all killer and are some of my favorite running Finnish death metal bands, but are either not as popular or I just don’t like them quite as much as the first tier. A few inclusions are there as much because they put out an album this year that’s killer as because of any longer term listening preferences.

Desecresy: Post-Slugathor. Absolutely killer and atmospheric doom-laden death metal that’s been pumping out albums fairly regularly since forming in 2009. Angular, eerie, and extremely consistent, Desecresy is oddly looked over by many people despite the quality of their music and the strong history of their bandmates. Though they were originally formed as a two piece, longtime vocalist Jarno Nurmi (Nowen, Serpent Ascending, ex-Slugathor) left the band in February and it is now the solo project of Tommi Grönqvist. Recommended listening: Everything
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Krypts: Propelled into the public eye by their first album, released in 2013 on Dark Descent Records, Krypts is one of the better-known current Finnish death metal bands, featuring a crushing low end, a fondness for doom, gloom, and thick production, and a cheerful simplicity that shows that they’re more than happy to destroy with reverb and atmosphere instead of with the fast leads of some similar groups. While they’re far from my favorite modern Finnish band (which isn’t at all knocking on them!), Krypts knows their audience, plays to it well, and make for a fun listen whenever you’re in the mood. A couple of years ago, Jukka Aho from Gorephilia joined in on guitars. Recommended listening: Krypts, Unending Degradation, Remnants of Expansion
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Lantern: Strange, atmospheric, and with a lot of subtle layering and melodies, Lantern is one of the more compelling and ambitious of the recent Finnish death metal bands. They have a talent for lengthy and complex composition, a fantastic and multitalented drummer, and a willingness to sometimes completely abandon strange atmospheric sections to have periods of crushing death metal that sets them aside from many of their peers as a unique and captivating entity to be watched. Their new album is a fine addition to the Finnish tradition and to Dark Descent’s catalog. Recommended listening: Below, II: Morphosis
Bandcamp

Gorephilia: Another Dark Descent band with a great new record this year, Gorephilia have evolved to eschew many of the trappings of Europe entirely to focus on powerful long-form Morbid Angel descended riffs, sounding like a primordial cousin to Sadistic Intent with only a few of the influences from Demigod or Abhorrence and proving once over that regional scenes, for all of the similarities that can pop up due to shared influences, are not an end-all to nailing down a band’s sound. Their first record was a bit more of a hodgepodge of Swedish, Finnish, and other influences, evoking Incantation, Demigod, and others more evenly. Recommended listening: Embodiment of Death, Severed Monolith
Bandcamp

Skeletal: Melodic, thrashing, and focused on relentless tremelo picked rhythms as much as on the chunkier ones that Finnish death metal tends to be better known for, Skeletal’s new album is a breakneck exercise in making death metal that’s extremely melodic without making melodeath. Short but fantastic solos pop up regularly and barked vocals work great with the tight instrumentation. Often more akin to early At The Gates or Pestilence than to anything historically associated with their countrymen. Recommended listening: Dreadful Life
Bandcamp

As an end note, I’m well aware that this is missing a ton of stuff. It’s only meant to be a primer, filtered through my own personal biases and taste, and thus is missing hundreds of bands that could fit, even only counting the unmentioned side projects of many of the bands featured in this brief introduction to Finnish death metal.

Brief List of Generally Essential Death Metal Releases

Death metal dates back to the mid-1980s and has had a tremendous amount of releases in the subgenre since then. This list is just a brief primer for people new to the genre and doesn’t attempt to serve as anything other than a small selection of important releases to listen to in order to understand as a genre. Discussion of each band only relates to their most influential material, as this is a discussion of death metal and not a primer for each band- that means that there won’t be much detail about later catalog stuff from each one, and the recommended listening list will be more tailored towards early influence.


Possessed (San Francisco, California): One of the first and most influential of the bands playing the extreme thrash that would evolve into death metal in subsequent, Possessed’s 1984 demo, “Death Metal,” was not only one of the earliest and most influential extreme releases, but is often credited (to limited controversy) as naming the genre itself. Their 1985 release of “Seven Churches” was a landmark in extreme metal that’s hailed as one of the most influential of all time and is sometimes called the first death metal album.

Recommended listening: Seven Churches (1985)

Master (Chicago, Illinois): Early brutal thrash prelude to what would become death metal. They had a punishing album recorded as of 1985 but that was shelved due to conflicts with their record label (though it was still heavily distributed by tape traders at the time), and instead debuted with a 1990 self-titled album. Notable also for heavy overlap with legendary death metal band Death Strike‘s debut, with Fuckin’ Death sharing many songs with early Master material due to Mittleburn and Speckman’s involvement in each.

Recommended listening: Unreleased 1985 Album (2003), Master (1990)

Death (Altamonte Springs, Florida): Another early influential band that sometimes gets credit for naming the genre. Started off named “Mantas” before changing their name to Death, and released several thrashy demos in between 1983 and their first album in 1987, with the most notable of the demos being the “Death By Metal” tape. Their debut album, 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore”, is considered by many to be the first death metal album by the people that aren’t calling either Seven Churches or Necrophagia‘s debut the first death metal release. Primitive, fast, and obsessed with death, the early Death material is the blueprint of much of the earliest death metal to come into existence, and many members went on to form other incredible bands. Albums following 1988’s “Leprosy” became more technical and progressive, and are influential on those subsections of the genre; fan favorites from the later era are 1991’s “Human” and 1995’s “Symbolic”.

Recommended listening: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Leprosy (1988), Human (1991)

Morbid Angel (Tampa, Florida): Another band from Florida. Their debut wasn’t the first piece of death metal to mark a significant departure from the genre’s thrash roots, but it’s certainly the most popular early release to do so. Its influence can be felt everywhere on death metal; swirling Satanic chaos is the order, and 1989’s “Altars of Madness” is the delivery. They made heavy use of minor key tremolo picked melodies, and the way that they used power chords was heavily copied by later bands. Several of the songs from their first two albums are are rerecorded from their original debut, which was shelved for some time after an altercation between Morbid Angel’s original guitarist and drummer. Their fourth studio album, 1993’s “Covenant”, is also notable for being one of the first popular death metal releases that was significantly downtuned.

Recommended listening: Altars of Madness (1989), Blessed Are The Sick (1991)

Bolt Thrower (Coventry, England): Bolt Thrower started off as a aggressive, grinding monster with 1988 debut “In Battle There Is No Law!” but quickly became slower and more crushing with future releases. 1989’s “Realm of Chaos” had dropped a lot of early punk influence, and was the last record of theirs to heavily feature it. By 1991’s “War Master” they had settled into the mid to low paced style that they’re known for today.

Recommended listening: In Battle There Is No Law! (1988), Realm of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness (1989), War Master (1991)

Pestilence (Enschede, Twente, Overijssel, Netherlands): Starting off as a thrash band and changing to death metal after their debut, 1989’s “Consuming Impulse” was influential not only on later death metal guitarwork with heavy emphasis on chromatic chugged rhythms and sharp leads but also on their vocals, with the album’s vocalist Martin Van Drunen being one of the most revered death metal vocalists of all time. Followup albums were increasingly progressive.

Recommended listening: Consuming Impulse (1989), Testimony of the Ancients (1991)

Autopsy (Oakland, California): Formed by former Death drummer Chris Reifert, Autopsy heavily influenced and defined early death/doom with their demented, filthy mess of slow early death metal on their 1989 debut “Severed Survival”. While most bands were pushing to be more intense than their contemporaries with fast tempos, Autopsy was going the opposite direction with slow ones.

Recommended listening: Severed Survival (1989), Mental Funeral (1991)

Obituary (Gibsonton, Florida): Yet more Floridian death metal. Obituary took heavy influence from Celtic Frost to present brutal slabs of death metal that alternated between many Frost-esque mid-paced sections and ripping thrashy ones. Viscerally filthy and always complimented by now-legendary vocalist John Tardy’s often unintelligible slurred gutterals, 1989’s “Slowly We Rot” was one of the most brutal releases of the ’80s.

Recommended listening: Slowly We Rot (1989), Cause of Death (1990)

Entombed (Stockholm, Sweden): An early innovator in the Swedish death metal sound as Nihilist, Entombed’s chainsaw guitar tone and aggressive riffing influenced waves of bands to come. 1990’s “Left Hand Path” is one of the definitive Swedish death metal albums, and 1993’s “Wolverine Blues” is widely credited as the first Death ‘n’ Roll album.

Recommended listening: Nihilist (1987-1989) (Nihilist demo compilation 1987-1989), Left Hand Path (1990), Clandestine (1991)

Deicide (Tampa, Florida): Originally named Amon and put out two demos under that name before changing their band name to Deicide. One of the absolute most popular death metal bands to ever exist; their first two studio albums are an exercise in Satanic excesses, chunky groove, sharp leads, tremolo picked rhythms, and Glen Benton’s hateful vocals. 1990’s “Deicide” was mostly rerecorded ’80s demo songs from the Amon name and its followup consisted of more new material written specifically for Deicide.

Recommended listening: Deicide (1990), Legion (1992)

Nocturnus (Tampa, Florida): Nocturnus is best known for their contributions to early tech death and for having quite possibly the heaviest keyboard usage of their time, along with their connection to Morbid Angel by way of being formed by former Morbid Angel drummer Mike Browning. Their 1990 debut, “The Key” is a keyboard-laden and technical concept album, and their innovations in atmosphere in a death metal setting were extremely important to the development of the genre.

Recommended listening: The Key (1990)

Suffocation (Long Island, New York): The origin of brutal death metal, Suffocation’s first EP was the first CD ever released on Relapse Records, and 1991’s “Effigy of the Forgotten” is widely recognized as the first brutal death metal album and was immediately widely copied throughout the New York death metal scene. Featuring some of the lowest gutteral vocals yet recorded in death metal, Suffocation’s heavy emphasis on tempo changing was uncommon at the time, and their love of chugged low-string breakdowns was quickly adopted as a hallmark of the upcoming brutal death scene.

Recommended listening: Human Waste (1991), Effigy of the Forgotten (1991), Breeding The Spawn (1993)

Immolation (Yonkers, New York): The sound of early Morbid Angel taken to their chunkiest chromatic extreme, with a massive guitar tone, complicated drumming, and the bestial roar of bassist Ross Dolan. 1991’s “Dawn of Possession” was a New York take on a classic sound, and is another of the most important classic death metal albums of the early years of the genre. Later albums dropped some of the fury of Dawn of Possession to become more dissonant, creepy, and angular, punctuated by massive grooves.

Recommended listening: Dawn of Possession (1991), Here In After (1996), Close To A World Below (2000)

Incantation (Johnstown, Pennsylvania): The progenitor of the now popular cavernous death metal style, Incantation’s 1992 debut, “Onward To Golgotha” is slow, massive, and murky, with an emphasis on alternating lower-string tremolo picked rhythms and higher melodies punctuated with pinch harmonics. Recommended listening: Onward To Golgotha (1992), Mortal Throne of Nazarene (1994)

Demigod (Loimaa, Finland): Finnish death metal’s off-kilter melodies and emphasis on the low end really shines through in Demigod’s 1992 debut, “Slumber of Sullen Eyes”. They codified the odd Finnish death sound, and their sound can be found in a tremendous number of bands following them.

Recommended listening: Slumber of Sullen Eyes (1992)

Lantern – II: Morphosis

This has been a great year for both Dark Descent Records and for fans of death metal, and Lantern have provided with II: Morphosis an excellent addition to both groups. Strange, atmospheric, and with a lot of subtle layering and melodies, Lantern is one of the more compelling and ambitious of the recent Finnish death metal bands, and their return with their second full length album is absolutely welcome. They have a talent for lengthy and complex composition, a fantastic and multitalented drummer (who is also the guitarist and bassist), and a willingness to sometimes completely abandon strange atmospheric sections to have periods of crushing death metal that sets them aside from many of their peers as a unique and captivating entity to be watched. Vocalist Necrophilos has an incredible voice that’s unique and powerful, howling over the music that Cruciatus has so adeptly written.

Right from the first song on the album, Black Miasma, the tone for the future material is set: sections of spacey, psychedelic trippiness, soundscapes of awful terror, ripping death metal, and sections that crawl down almost to being death/doom; from there, the entire album continues in its vein. That being said, each song has its own unique flavor, with the main focus being the interesting guitarwork, which ranges from crushing rhythms to great sections where both guitars are doing entirely different things to fantastic soloing. The lyrics, which I normally don’t focus on much, are also very well written (albeit with a sometimes humorous focus on rhyme scheme), and Necrophilos’ voice lets you hear each word clearly without straining.

“Is this where I shall witness my last?
Is this the way my days are bound to pass away;
In despair and solemnly aghast?”

As a final note, the production is as solid as you’d expect from Dan Lowndes, and the cover art is fucking phenomenal.

Listen and buy here.

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Image source: https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ii-morphosis

 

Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation

Abhorrent Manifestation can’t be shoehorned into a single line, but if I had to do so, it’d be to call it an amazing showcase of ripping primordial death metal devastation. Now that my favorite newer San Diego based extreme metal band have finally given us a full length release this year, it’s easy to see that Ascended Dead have been refining their approach through the years between their first demo and this album. Continuing in line with their prior material (and reusing three songs from said earlier material), Abhorrent Manifestation rips right into full bore right from the start, blasting through sections that sound as angry, chaotic, and uncompromising as any death metal has ever been. The only real break is a pretty acoustic instrumental halfway through the album, letting listeners up a bit before cutting through listeners like a scythe all over again.

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Image Source: Ascended Dead’s website

The sharp and technical leads that constantly pop up over the blistering rhythms remind me of Morbid Angel on a bender mixed with the aggressive insanity of Necrovore, and CK’s relentless, powerful drumming showcases exactly why he was recruited to Funebrarum. Insane solos break away with swirling madness before vanishing as quickly as they came, while the howling vocals roar over the whole thing with the power and anger needed to drive this sort of music, always perfectly complimenting the vicious instrumentals. The whole thing is tied together by the excellent production that the album has, which keeps the aural assault from becoming exhausting or from blending together.

The main deal breaker for most bands that attempt a similar form of music is that they don’t have the songwriting chops to make their music remain interesting or memorable, but Ascended Dead have none of that problem, using their expertise from years of writing music both for Ascended Dead and for earlier bands to forge the raging songs that they play. The band describe their music as “dark, chaotic, demonic, bestial Death Metal, without limitations” and I’d say that they’ve certainly accomplished that. While the music is in a lot of ways fundamentally rooted in death metal’s early history, Ascended Dead are clearly looking towards the future.

Listen

Buy (North America)

Buy (Europe)

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