A beginner's guide to melodic death metal in five essential albums

Carcass, Anders Friden and Angela Gossow
(Image credit: Getty)

There's a strong argument for melodeath being the single most influential strain of heavy metal to have emerged in the last thirty years. Without that scintillating mixture of razor-sharp death metal riffs and catchy-as-crabs melodies, we'd have no Killswitch Engage, no Trivium, no Bullet For My Valentine, no Parkway Drive, no Bring Me The Horizon, no...well, you get the picture.

With the genre's influence on modern metal as powerful as ever, here's a handy guide to melodic death metal's evolution across the last three decades, via the albums that have helped move the genre forwards the most. 

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Carcass - Heartwork (1993)

Not content with being one of the pioneers of grindcore, Liverpudlian extreme metal heroes Carcass also went and established the blueprint for melodic death metal with their timeless fourth album, Heartwork. Packing a near-endless supply of killer riffs woven around hooks so big they'd snag a killer whale, it was exhilarating, groundbreaking and way ahead of the game - so much so that it still sounds better than 99% of what came after, three whole decades on. The dream team combo of Jeff Walker's gravelly snarls and throbbing bass lines, Bill Steer and Michael Amott's twin guitar attack and Ken Owen's skin-battering drumwork has rarely been equalled, meaning that for many, melodeath's first definitive statement remains its greatest.

At The Gates - Slaughter Of The Soul (1995)

Melodeath may have been established in the UK, but the genre will forever be inexorably linked with Gothenburg, Sweden. Not least thanks to At The Gates' masterful fourth album, Slaughter Of The Soul, which reigned in some of the experimentation they had flirted with on previous records to produce a straight-for-the-throat, 34-minute, all-out assault of scything riffs, soaring melodies and taut, pummelling percussion, captured marvellously by melodeath's producer-in-chief, Fredrik Nordström. It was a record that'd inspire a thousand crappy rip-offs (not to mention some pretty damn good bands, too!), confirming At The Gates as one of the singularly most influential metal bands of their generation.

In Flames - Clayman (2000)

Emerging around the same time as their peers in At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, fellow Gothenburgers In Flames were the first band of them all to truly test just how big and polished melodic death metal could sound without becoming too watered down or cynical. Clayman delivered on that experiment in style; the likes of Pinball Map, Swim and the album's title track sounded instantly arena-ready, while the immense Only For The Weak remains melodeath's biggest ever crossover hit. Admit it: those iconic synth lines are pounding their way through your cranium at this very second. Carcass and At The Gates may have set the bar, but with Clayman, In Flames officially took melodic death metal overground.

Arch Enemy - Anthems Of Rebellion (2003)

With melodeath bigger than ever in the early 00s and a generation of metalcore bands emerging in its wake, former Carcass man Michael Amott had been steadily building Arch Enemy up as one of the scene's most exciting names. Come late 2000, original Arch Enemy singer Johan Liiva had left, replaced by an unknown German vocalist named Angela Gossow. It proved to be a genius hiring: Gossow became one of the 2000s' most recognisable metal personalities, giving Arch Enemy a much-needed injection of swagger and stage presence to go alongside her ferocious, paint-stripping roars. With 2003's Anthems Of Rebellion, Amott perfected his splicing of melodeath tropes with the kinds of big, ultra-cheesy hooks usually reserved for his beloved stadium rock bands. Gossow, meanwhile, booted the door down for women in extreme music, the video for We Will Rise becoming a staple of rock TV channels during that era.

The Black Dahlia Murder - Nocturnal (2007)

Strangely, despite the genre's immense influence on US metal through the early half of the 2000s, America struggled to export a melodic death metal band of its own that could stand toe to toe with the Swedes. Enter: The Black Dahlia Murder. Just as the melodeath template was starting to feel a little on the stale side, Michigan's finest arrived on the scene to inject it with a new sense of vitality and brutality. 2007 breakthrough album Nocturnal remains, for many fans, their definitive statement: buzzing riffs and clattering blastbeats peel off each other at a dizzying rate, all circled around the gnarled shrieks of the much-missed Trevor Strnad. Throw in a meaty modern production job by the newly appointed Jason Suecof and you have a true melodeath classic, courtesy of the scene's most consistent band this side of the millennium. 

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.