Written by Kyle Messick

I’ll be taking a little break from weekly recs next week since I’ll be gone at Maryland Deathfest, so for this week I thought I’d recommend some albums from some of the deeper cuts playing MDF this year. I’ll assume anyone looking for death metal recs is already familiar with Carcass, Autopsy, Deicide, Obituary, Hypocrisy, Suffocation, Mortician, etc. – so here are 15 albums that might not already be in your rotation.

Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids (1984). Before there was Celtic Frost and Tripytkon, Tom G. Warrior fronted the similarly influential Hellhammer. Apocalyptic Raids was an EP that sounds equal parts speed, thrash, and proto-extreme metal genres like black and death. It’s a lofi, raw recording complete with Tom’s trademark “ough” grunt. Tom will be playing Hellhammer tunes at MDF under the moniker ‘Triumph of Death.’

Atheist – Elements (1993). Atheist were a band far ahead of the curve in mixing technical death metal with jazz, and although most fans would cite Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence as their favorite Atheist albums, mine is unquestionably Elements. I haven’t heard another album anything like it. It is one of the only extreme metal albums where the drums and bass are musical components independent of the guitars, making this album a compositional novelty in death metal’s canon. As if all of that wasn’t strange enough, the album is also largely a concept album written from the perspective of different elements. I can’t express enough how much I love this album, but of course every Atheist album is magnificent.

Demolition Hammer – Tortured Existence (1990). New York’s Demolition Hammer are unique in that they’re a thrash metal band that manages to be as heavy and aggressive as a death metal band, especially live. One of my fondest memories of a previous Maryland Deathfest was during Demolition Hammer’s set. It was pouring down rain, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of their set. The crowd erupted into a massive circle pit while we were all soaked and stomping through puddles. It was magical, and just made the intensity of Demolition Hammer’s phenomenal performance that much more impactful.

Blood Feast – Kill For Pleasure (1987). Blood Feast from New Jersey are another thrash metal band that will appeal to many fans of death and black metal. It’s raw and aggressive stuff that should definitely speak well to fans of Sadus and Morbid Saint. It’s a band that I’d love to see but I’m definitely concerned about their overlap with Monstrosity in the MDF schedule.

Demilich – Nespithe (1993). Nespithe, which is an anagram for “The Spine,” is one of the most important albums to me as a musician and a music fan. This Finnish death metal masterpiece is iconic for it’s unorthodox riffing, ultra-guttural vocals, and excessively long song titles. I’ve been lucky enough to see Demilich multiple times, and I can attest to frontman Antti Boman having a great sense of humor, which is illustrated well by his introduction of the full song titles in completely indecipherable guttural vocal.

Cardiac Arrest – Cadaverous Presence (2008). This is my favorite album by Chicago’s Cardiac Arrest, which is a great, catchy, and well-written death metal with a unique, raw mix that I really connect with. This is legit, old school death with no nonsense, and they absolutely deliver live.

Drawn and Quartered – Return of the Black Death (2004). Since 1992 Drawn and Quartered from Seattle have been one of most consistent and underrated death metal bands going. They maintain a darkness in their sound, not unlike Immolation, that permeates through each of their releases. This is their third album, which is the first one I ever picked up, but really there isn’t a bad album to start with. Each of them is solid, in-your-face death metal with great riffs, leads, and solos.

Deeds of Flesh – Trading Pieces (1996). The death metal world suffered a tremendous loss when Erik Lindmark, mastermind behind Deeds of Flesh, passed away in 2018. Past and current members of Deeds of Flesh finished the final album he was working on after his passing, and in an extraordinary and rare event, they will be playing Deeds of Flesh songs at this year’s Maryland Deathfest. Understandably many feel that this is strange without Erik, but it’s still tremendous to have the opportunity to hear Deeds of Flesh songs live in any form, with any lineup. Musically the band evolved from a brutal death metal band to an increasingly technical and sci-fi obsessed one, so the band have different camps of fans depending on their preferences. This was their debut album, which is as old school as a brutal death metal album gets.

Malformity – Lectures on the Apocalypse (2015). Malformity from Atlanta, Georgia formed in 1991, but didn’t really start putting out much material until their reformation in 2014. Despite their extended hiatus, they play with all the intensity and inspiration of a younger band. Their death metal has many movements and finds a great balance between sounding old school but while also including plenty of changes, technical parts, and variety.

Malignant Altar – Retribution of Jealous Gods (2019). Malignant Altar’s debut last year might have been the best death metal album of the year, but even before that, they put out incredible music in the form of this demo. It’s ridiculously crushing and has an absolutely incredible drum performance, so I’m stoked to see this band live and presumably be completely annihilated. Texas has a history of great death metal, but rarely is it this good or this overwhelmingly heavy.

Cephalic Carnage – Lucid Interval (2002). Cephalic Carnage from Colorado have an incredibly varied discography in that each album is packed with technical death and grind and plenty of experimentation. Every album they’ve released has some really strong tracks which makes for an incredible setlist each time they play live. One of my favorite death metal tracks ever is the title track from this album, which is so full of memorable twists and turns and has such an addictive breakdown riff that I just can’t get enough of it. Combine this with tracks like “Endless Cycle of Violence” and you’ve got a mandatory live set that every death metal fan should treat themselves to.

Monstrosity – Millennium (1996). The sophomore album by Floridian death metal titans Monstrosity is the perfect mix of aggressive and technical death metal. This album also features Corpsegrinder on vocals before he joined Cannibal Corpse, but of course since then they’ve since replaced him with the similarly talented Mike Hrubovcak from a ton of other bands, including Vile. I’ve never seen Monstrosity live, so I’m absolutely stoked to see them at MDF.

Rottrevore – Iniquitous (1993). The only full-length album from US death metal band Rottrevore is one of the greatest death metal albums ever recorded. The music isn’t complex. It’s heavy; overwhelmingly heavy. This is no-nonsense death. Rottrevore formed in 1989 and reformed in 2021, and they’re easily my most anticipated set of all of Maryland Deathfest. I fully expect these old school veterans to showcase what real death metal is, and I can’t wait.

Scattered Remnants – Indulgence in Masochism (1994-1998). My second most anticipated set of MDF will come from the reactivated lineup of Scattered Remnants from Massachusetts. I’m such a sucker for that 90s New York brutal death metal sound that bands like Suffocation popularized, and Scattered Remnants definitely hit that sweet spot. This discography compilation spans everything from the spine-chilling Lord Worm-esque screams of the demo to the earth-shattering breakdowns of their EP and LP.

Sulfuric Cautery – Chainsaws Clogged With The Underdeveloped Brain Matter Of Xenophobes (2019). It was hard to choose only 15 albums to highlight, but since I haven’t mentioned any grind, I wanted to get one of those in too. Sulfuric Cautery from Ohio are some incredibly heavy grind, so I’ll have a tough time deciding between seeing them and Massacre (another band I’ve never seen).