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The 50 best death metal albums ever

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10. Cannibal Corpse – Tomb Of The Mutilated (1992)

The macabre album cover, despicable song titles and out-of-leftfield cameo in a Jim Carrey film all added to Cannibal Corpse’s notoriety, but it’s the sheer quality of Tomb Of The Mutilated that cement its status. Backed by the monumental weight of Hammer Smashed Face’s riffs, Post Mortal Ejaculation’s sickening undercurrent and I Cum Blood’s grinding atmosphere the band firmly nailed their grisly banner atop extreme metal’s flagpole.

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Left Hand Path cover art

(Image credit: Combat, Earache)

9. Entombed – Left Hand Path (1990)

Progenitors of the now infamous “buzzsaw” sound that set the Swedes apart from the Americans in the early ‘90s, Entombed had catchier riffs, a penchant for horror schlock and an underlying punkiness that made their debut album vastly sharper and more memorable than most. Not just brutal and dark, Left Hand Path was full of genuinely great tunes.

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Deicide cover art

(Image credit: Roadrunner)

8. Deicide – Deicide (1990)

Good old Glen Benton. While other bands merely talked about evil, the Deicide frontman really threw himself into it, even branding his own forehead with an inverted cross. Deicide’s debut album sounded exactly how an album made by an actual maniac should sound. Complex but vicious and dripping with anti-Christian vitriol, Satan bloody loved it.

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7. Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)

Our Top 50 Best Death Metal Albums Ever tries to avoid bands that blurred the boundaries between thrash, death and (early) black metal, but Possessed are one of the few exceptions we had to make. Seven Churches is a thrash album through and through – it’s just darker, heavier and more brilliantly blasphemous than anything else that existed at the time. And yes, death metal began in earnest here too.

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6. Obituary – Cause Of Death (1990)

The undisputed daddies of caveman death metal somehow managed to outstrip their genre-defining Slowly We Rot debut second time around. Aside from containing Obituary’s biggest, er, hit – the indelible Chopped In HalfCause Of Death remains one of the most crushing and grim death metal albums of all time. It’s mainly mid-paced, but it’s merciless.

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5. At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul (1995)

The influence At The Gates' mighty fourth album be heard in a vast amount of metal from the last 20 years, not least the entire post-Killswitch metalcore movement in the US. A flawless masterpiece that hammered home how distinctive the Swedes’ sound was, and how brutally effective it could be. Massive tunes, terrifying levels of aggression and precision… it’s an all-time classic.

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(Image credit: Death)

4. Death – Human (1991)

Hot on the heels of its predecessor, Human undoubtedly saw an exponential leap forward in innovation. With Chuck Schuldiner surrounded by the most virtuosic collection of members in the band’s history, it was no wonder this multifaceted masterpiece became Death’s best selling, and highest acclaimed album. 

Accompanied by their first music video for Lack Of Comprehension, Human saw Chuck enlist ironically inhuman talents of Cynic’s Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert resulting in the band gaining a well deserved reputation as a true force to be reckoned with.

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3. Carcass – Heartwork (1993)

The gore-fixated gods of grind streamlined their sound on their penultimate 90s record. The result was the finest British extreme metal album of the decade.

Heartwork was also arguably the point where melodic death metal became a cohesive idea, and it still sounds fantastic all these years later. Every song has at least one unforgettable hook, genius riffs come thick and fast and Colin Richardson’s production was an authentic game-changer. Melodeath may have been defined by the Swedes, but it was Carcass that made its definitive statement.

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2. Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989)

Rightly hailed as a landmark for the emerging death metal Morbid Angel’s 1989 debut, Altars Of Madness, set the bar so high for the entire genre that people are still trying to match its brutal splendour more than 30 years later. 

Back in 1989, nobody had ever heard anything like Altars Of Madness before. The Floridans made Slayer sound like Weezer: this was a twisted, pitch-black and incredible sophisticated upgrade for Chuck Schuldiner’s deathly blueprint. Trey Azagthoth’s churning, otherworldly riffs, David Vincent’s peerless growls and the band’s idiosyncratic approach and progressive mindset set them apart from their peers – songs like Chapel Of Ghouls and Immortal Rites have never been topped for otherworldly menace and riffs that tear your soul apart. Still untouchable after all these years.

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1. Death - Symbolic (1995)

There are more extreme death metal albums, musically and lyrically. But none is as visionary as Death’s sixth and penultimate album Symbolic.

Since his landmark debut Scream Bloody Gore eight years earlier, Chuck Schuldiner and the revolving line-up of musicians he used to bring his vision to life had showed that death metal could evolve into something new. Symbolic’s predecessor, Human, was a huge stepping stone, but it was this follow-up where Death’s full, magnificent potential was realised.

Powered by drummer extraordinaire Gene Hoglan, Symbolic was a labyrinth of technicality and cerebral lyrical meanderings, displaying unsurpassable musicianship yet all the while managing to remain incredibly accessible. From the shockingly catchy title track to the epic sonic landscapes of closer Perennial Quest, death metal had never sounded like this before.

A quarter of a century after its release, and nearly two decades after the tragically premature demise of Chuck Schuldiner, Symbolic remains the pinnacle of the entire death metal genre.

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