Since emerging in the mid-1980s as a twisted offspring of thrash and proto–black metal, death metal has done much to advance its extremely extreme form, which often includes abrupt fast/slow tempo changes, heavily distorted, downtuned guitars, manic double-kick and blast-beat drums, inhumanely guttural vocals, explicit lyrics and gory slasher-film-style visuals. But beyond the blood, guts, screams and pick squeals, death metal has also become a platform for virtuosic musicians to display advanced musical techniques and challenging lyrics.
Death metal has spawned its own hybrid creations as well: Death-doom, tech-death, death & roll ... But, restricting the genre to its purest original form, we were wondering: what is the band that epitomizes the death-metal expression? To get a consensus, we asked you, our readers, to chime in with your picks. Nominations rolled in across social media for groundbreaking groups including Possessed, Carcass and Entombed, but they didn't make the Top 5. Below, see the bands that made the cut.
Glen Benton is a fucking character, and his unwavering dedication to shitting all over Christianity and everything its iron grip has wrought upon the world is not always the smartest or most nuanced approach, but you can't argue he gets his point across. Deicide's riffs are monstrously listenable for something so blasphemously eardrum-grinding, and the straight-from-hell vocals are entertaining for the seasoned listener but will still scare the shit out of your neighbors — and that's why we all love death metal to begin with, right?
Despite a few latter-day excursions into head-scratching industrial-electro experimentation, Morbid Angel have had one of death metal's best runs since they first crawled out of the Florida swamps in 1983. And to this day bona fide guitar god Trey Azagthoth and Company still deliver an all-out metal assault. The intense, thunderous drums and twisting riffage on 1989 debut Altars of Madness is a true sensory overload — sounding like it arrived from some hellish other dimension of shredding. Chaos fucking reigns, and the band rightly deserve their place in fans' hearts.
Obituary's Floridian groove and redneck sensibility alone guarantee that any death-metal list will almost certainly pay tribute to their vile, filthy putrescence. One of the pioneering forces in the genre, Obituary's 30-plus-year career has a striking consistency: they still whip crowds into a fury when playing live and their latest record — their 10th overall — fucking ruled. Other bands might soften or falter, but Obituary is death eternal.
There aren't many band names that immediately grab one's attention like Cannibal Corpse. Clearly, the music has lived up to the band's vicious, violent name as they've enjoyed a consistent three-decade-plus career that has led to some of metal's heaviest and most brutal work. "Hammer Smashed Face" is likely to scare the hell out of any normie, and their later work like Red Before Black still carries an intensity and menace only they can conjure.
They didn't explicitly invent the genre, but there's little room to argue Death are the band that define and personify death metal — from their classic 1987 debut Scream Bloody Gore to their final melodic tech-death swan song The Sound of Perseverance. Late bandleader Chuck Schuldiner's legendary perfectionism elevated the genre from dumb-guy heavy metal to truly progressive and inventive art, and the legacy his all-too-early passing left solidified Death's status among the absolute greats of the genre.