As it turns out, asking our readers to pick the single greatest death-metal album ever is a savage game. Throughout its near-40-year history, metal's goriest subgenre has produced an absolute glut of phenomenal records, from the pioneering bands in the Eighties and Nineties to all the groups who carried the death-metal torch in the 2000s and beyond.
So when we actually had to tally up the votes and whittle the results down to a mere five records, some major players in the genre's canon just barely missed the cut. That said, the five albums that did make it into the coveted top tier are all absolute stunners. Below, see what the order ended up being.
Of all the Florida death-metal psychos, Deicide's Glen Benton might be the craziest motherfucker of them all — from carving crosses into his forehead and claiming he's partook in Satanic animal sacrifices, to getting banned at various venues for blasphemous remarks. However, the wildest part about Deicide is that they managed to capture all of that hellish lunacy in sonic form on their 1990 debut, a ferocious blitz of death-metal mayhem that still manages to be low key tuneful despite the beastly screeches and brazen blast beats.
The only European album to crack the top five here was Entombed's Left Hand Path, and it's definitely one of the best records to represent the monumental impact that the Scandinavian scene had on death metal worldwide. The guitars are doused in the Boss HM-2 pedal effect that would become the signature "buzzsaw" tone that bands still reach for today, and songs like Left Hand Path's epic title track are more gothic and castle-like than the grimy noises emerging out of the Florida swamps. There's an elegance to the heaviness on Left Hand Path that's been copied to death, but never replicated quite like the original.
Obituary have a lot of great albums under their belts, but Cause of Death is the one. On their second LP, the Floridian muck monsters zeroed in on a sound that was slower and sludgier than many of their contemporaries, solidifying a knuckle-dragging form of death metal that's in the DNA of deathcore bands and the heaviest of metallic hardcore groups alike. Despite the album's long-lasting influence, no one's ever yowled like John Tardy does on Cause of Death, and no other death-metal band grooves like Obituary.
Morbid Angel's third LP, Covenant, was released on a major label, making it one of the most important death-metal albums of all time (as well as one of the best). But the band wouldn't have gotten there without Altars of Madness, their feral 1989 debut that was leagues ahead of so many of their Florida peers and, in many ways, set the template for what people expect American death metal to sound like. Go ahead and listen to any extreme band to emerge since — you'll hear a helluva lot of greatness, but will you hear anything better than that screeching lead lick in "Immortal Rites"?
"Every Death album" was a common response to this poll, and it might be the most spiritually correct answer of them all. That said, Human was the Chuck Schuldiner masterpiece that eked out the No. 1 spot this time around, and we're certainly not mad about that. Arriving smack-dab in the middle of their iconic catalog, Human is the platonic ideal of a Death record, exhibiting all the ugly qualities of their foundational material but also the mind-sweeping technicality and brilliant melodicism of their impeccable Nineties run. Any number of other Schuldiner albums could've taken the top spot, but this is a worthy No. 1.