Written by Kyle Messick
For my weekly recommendations, I mostly try to highlight a mix of old and new with a focus on bands that don’t get as much exposure. This week I’m doing something special and highlighting my absolute favorite era of death metal music: the 90s. These are fifteen deep cuts that I adore that I feel like every death metal fan should check out.
Korpse – Pull the Flood (1994). This death metal band is an underrated as they come. Their debut, Pull the Flood, is one of my favorite death metal albums, and that’s largely because it’s so unique. Whereas most death metal bands pull from thrash, neoclassical, or jazz influences, Korpse shares more in common with Black Sabbath in that there’s a lot of notable blues influence. In addition to this, they often used flanger effects on their guitars, giving it a more psychedelic feel in parts. Combine that with complex songs that are packed with riffs that never overstay their welcome, and you’ve got one of the most novel and engaging death metal albums ever recorded.
Mangled Torsos – Drawings of the Dead (1994). The production on this German debut really creates a dismal atmosphere that’s perfect their sound, which feels somewhere between OSDM and death doom. The vocals on this are an awesome, disgusting gurgle. It’s a great album to just get immersed in how beautifully cryptic a death metal album can sound, and Mangled Torsos did it without all the tricks that modern cavernous bands use.
Schismatic – Circle of Evolution (1993). Schismatic are a fascinating Polish band because of how different their debut is from their sophomore; there was certainly an evolution. Circle of Evolution is an ugly, old school death metal album that’s as fierce as they come. Their sophomore, Egregor, really jumps into the Cynic, Atheist, Death jazzy tech-prog stuff. Both albums are amazing, but for completely different reasons. This debut is some classic death metal with catchy songwriting, a memorable drum performance, and plenty of great riffs. It deserves a lot more love than it gets.
Graveside – Sinful Accession (1993). This might be the greatest death metal album to come out of the 90s Russian scene. Yes, it kind of apes the American scene in its sound, but it’s done spectacularly well. It’s technical in parts without being flashy, it’s groovy in others, and there are plenty of classic drum beats and brief solos. There’s even some tasteful keyboard sections on here. The compositions are great, and it’s a shame that this band only released one album before being lost to obscurity. Two of the four members have passed since this album was released, but it’s still a fantastic album that I hope that they can live on through more people finally hearing this underground gem.
Authorize – The Source of Dominion (1991). Following a split with Nirvana 2002 and others, Sweden’s Authorize dropped their only full-length album. This debut combines many of my favorite characteristics in death metal. The title is a great example that shows why I love this album. It has tempo changes, Nocturnus-esque solos, and it is happy to throw in some crushing brutal sections too. Death metal fans can be particular about what type of death metal they enjoy, but I feel like this album has a bit of everything, despite not being as well-known as other Swedish albums of the era. It’s old school and brutal but without being purely dedicated to either of those sounds, and it also avoided the stereotypical trappings of the Swedish scene.
Extreme Deformity – Eternal (1993). This is one of my favorite 90s death metal records despite so few seeming to know about it. This was the only album that Extreme Deformity from Hungary released. They took their name from a Pungent Stench song upon forming in 1990, but their sound is a lot more brutal than Pungent Stench. This album is packed with some massive grooves, not unlike Gutted’s Bleed for Us To Live. There’s also a bunch of great leads and expressive solos throughout the album. It’s a pretty straight-forward, heavy endeavor, but there are some subtle bits of experimentation that don’t detract from this being a death metal album, including some Cynic-esque vocals on the second track. Check this out so I have someone else to be hyped about it with.
Phantasm – The Abominable (1992). Phantasm were a horror-obsessed death metal band featuring two members that were also in Dr. Shrinker. This is another band, like Autopsy, where the drummer also handled the vocal duties, and also similar to Autopsy, the vocal performance is pretty wild. Musically, this album sounds completely dissimilar form other death metal bands of the era, largely because of how varied the songs are. The band didn’t stick a particular riffing style or genre, and that’s largely why it still sounds so fresh. There are tempo changes and crushing parts that might remind of a band like Rottrevore, but there’s also more melodic, almost proggy passages that sound horror inspired, and other sections that have punk vibes with plenty of d-beats. There’s even a metalized version of a rock song on here. It all sounds disparate when I describe it, but it all works well together.
Purulence / Amaymon – Split (1993). This is the album that paved the way for Gorguts’ Obscura. Steeve Hurdle fronted this project before getting recruited by Luc Lemay to jointly break all the rules in death metal – but it all started here, with the only Purulence release that was ever issued on CD. In listening to it, you can hear a lot of the ideas that laid the seeds for Gorguts’ genre-defining third album, but in a way more straight-forward and brutal format. The Amaymon side is some great old school death out of France that gives me early Deicide vibes.
Appalling Spawn – All Spawns (1996-1998). This is a compilation of the two 90s releases from Appalling Spawn, who you might know better as the moniker that they were known by after these releases: Lykathea Aflame. I feel that the sole album released under the Lykathea Aflame moniker is one the greatest death metal albums ever released, and their earlier works here are of a similar quality. This band out of the Czech Republic mixed brutal death metal, progressive death metal, and grindcore into a formula that is so sublime that few bands, if any, have been able to approach or emulate it. This isn’t nearly as adventurous as Elvenfris, but it is still a challenging album composed by fantastic musicians that will reward any listener that indulges it.
Wicked Innocence – Omnipotence (1995). Despite the goofy moniker, this US band have put out some of the most crushing and unique death metal ever put to tape, which this being their career highlight. The music is mostly somewhere between grind and brutal death, but with completely unorthodox, progressive riffing, and a wild vocal performance that’s all over the place spanning from gurgles to howled roars to spoken word parts that remind me of Swans. It’s a brilliant masterpiece and there hasn’t been another album like it before or since.
Infester – To the Depths in Degradation (1994). The only album from Infester from the US is a stellar album not just because of the performances and songwriting, but also because of how it affects the listener. This is an album that genuinely sounds terrifying. This is nightmares made death metal. It has all the ferocious intensity of brutal death metal, but also the breathability of classic death metal; what bridges the gap is that dense, haunting atmosphere. Many death metal albums sound dark and haunting, but few manage to do that while also sounding so enraged. It is intense, beautiful, and perpetually angry all at the same time.
Morgue – Eroded Thoughts (1993). This was the only album from this band out of Illinois. Memorable riffs are paired with barked gutturals, tempo changes, and some great leadwork/solos. Their influences are all over the place, which is shown by how varied the riffs are, but it’s all pretty cohesive. The great neoclassical leads and solos are what differentiate this album from many of its peers, making it a pretty awesome 90s death metal debut.
Caducity – The Weiliaon Wielder Quest (1995). The debut album by Belgium’s Caducity has probably been one of the biggest influences on me lately, as someone that enjoys epic stories in the context of death metal. This will be especially apparent on Maimed’s upcoming full-length album. This album is mostly a crushing death metal endeavor, but it’s also plenty experimental in its mixing of genres and inclusion of narration. It isn’t a perfect album, but it is an ambitious one, which always gets a lot of bonus points from me.
Intestine Baalism – An Anatomy of the Beast (1997). Simply said, this might be the greatest melodic death metal album ever made. When one thinks of melodeath, it is likely the verse-chorus sounds of the Gothenburg scene that come to mind, but the debut by Japan’s Intestine Baalism is nothing like that. This is a dark, sinister death metal album with vocals that alternate between gutturals and a black metal-esque howl. The music is largely old school death with a focus on tremolo riffing, but then the melodies come in. There are some astoundingly gorgeous passages throughout this album. It is that contrast between death metal’s darkest, fiercest depths and those beautiful moments of thoughtful solace that make this such a masterful work of art. It is an album that can in one moment get your adrenaline pumping, and in another, hit you so deeply that it genuinely moves you. It’s a profound release, and one that will be reissued on CD and tape next month by Sewer Rot Records, so be sure to keep an eye out and add it to your collection if you don’t already own it.
Catacomb – In the Maze of Kadath (1993). This EP out of France is one of the earliest death metal albums to feature keyboards in a prominent role, but here it doesn’t cheese things up. These are some of the best death metal songs ever written, and the occasional keyboard part just contributes to adding some dismal atmosphere to the Lovecraftian horrors within. The way stellar riffing is matched with ultra-guttural vocals and a catchy drum performance makes this album of the major highlights in death metal’s fabled history. If you somehow haven’t heard this yet, you should absolutely treat yourself.