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When we asked our readers to choose their favorite Death song, "all of them" really did feel like the most accurate choice. Led by "The Godfather of Death Metal" himself, Chuck Schuldiner, the Florida death-metal pioneers produced seven incredible albums during their relatively short yet fertile run, which began in the mid-Eighties and was tragically cut short when Schuldiner died in 2001.
With each album, from 1987 debut Scream Bloody Gore to their 1998 swansong The Sound of Perseverance, Schuldiner and Co. delivered songs that not only defined the genre, but helped push it into its most progressive and exciting realms. From late-career feats of sterling technicality to an early standout that distills death metal down to its purest, most masterful form, these are what our readers chose as the five best Death songs, ranked accordingly below.
The opener from Death's final album, 1998's The Sound of Perseverance, is a fucking marvel. At this point in his stunning musical evolution, Schuldiner was effectively making prog-metal with a death-metal veneer. "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" is the pinnacle of this approach: seven minutes of dizzying fretwork and confoundingly awesome drumming that could get thumbs up from Dream Theater and Cannibal Corpse fans alike.
One of Death's most enduring qualities is that they made killer music to the very end, and their penultimate record, 1995's Symbolic, was no exception. It's a 50-minute behemoth that features some of their most technical songwriting, and it kicks off with a ripping title-track that's arguably heavier, faster and shreddier than anything that came before it. With a brilliant guitar solo and bulldozing speed, "Symbolic" is a true face-melter.
Death's 1990 album, Spiritual Healing, holds a bit of a controversial place in the band's catalog. Marking the transition between their full-on embrace of melodeath and their gory origins, the record is often overlooked. But its title-track is generally regarded as an undeniable highlight — a nearly eight-minute epic that earns its length with stunning guitar wizardry, fresh tempo changes and a few really great chuggier sections.
As traditional death metal split off in multiple directions throughout the mid and late Nineties, melodic and technical became two of the genre's dominating sub-styles. On "Crystal Mountain," a standout from Symbolic, Death demonstrated how a song could do both. You'd be hard-pressed to find another band from their world who could shred like Schuldiner and hit those discombobulating drum patterns like Gene Hoglan — and still create a track that always maintains its sturdy melodic framework. Listen and learn, kids.
While some of Death's later albums have acquired more legacy status over time, the band's 1988 sophomore album, Leprosy, is undoubtedly their most influential, and "Pull the Plug" is pretty much the one. With a slightly thrashier tempo and uglier tone compared to their later material, "Pull the Plug" sounds at once years ahead of its time and still completely timeless. This is death-metal incarnate, in four-and-a-half glorious minutes.