In the early to mid 1980s, heavy metal music began to broaden beyond the first era of bands like Maiden, Priest, and Dio. It evolved into darker, faster territories with thrash metal like Slayer, Exodus, Kreator, and many others. A somewhat new phenomenon began to root itself in an even more extreme sound of the music — today, we call it death metal. Music from this subgenre of metal is certain to contain demonic, inhuman growls and shrieks, blast beat drum patterns, heavy bass lines, and speed metal guitar shredding madness. The lyrics and sound are often centered around gore, suffering, Satanism, evil, wars, criminality, philosophy, horror movies, the occult, mythology, and even ancient history.
What makes death metal so powerful to many fans is its versatility. It can blend itself well into any other genre of metal seamlessly; it has had a part in the formation and inspiration of many black metal grindcore, doom metal, and experimental bands across the globe. We know there's an almost infinite list of bands to chose from, but after hours of head banging, and a pair of blown-out eardrums, we decided on the best 10. 10. Krisiun Formed by three brothers from Brazil in the early '90s, this tightly knit mechanical-sounding metal unit still creates some of the most insanely wicked, loud, and brutal music known among the extreme metal scene. If you love ferocious singing, then vocalist/bassist Alex Camargo's hellish guttural and ultra-deep vocals will be your cup of tea. In conjunction with the super-crisp and monstrous guitar riffs, the drums are at the center of the sound and played with the speed of a chainsaw. Krisiun, which also features guitarist Moyses Kolesne, and drummer Max Kolense, unleashes an epic, apocalyptic breed of death metal that ravages listeners, leaving them wanting more each time. The band has toured the planet with the best of death metal bands, many on this list. With over 10 full-length albums, including 2015's Forged in Fury, Krisiun will remain to be a central force among the extreme metal community. 9. Decapitated This Polish death metal group formed in 1996 when guitarist Vogg and his drummer brother Vitek began playing together as teens. After tons of hard work in its early years, the band created the 2000 album Winds of Creation (Earache Records), when Vogg was 17 and Vitek 15. Since then, Decapitated has now become highly respected for its onstage stamina and its brutal technical sound. But In 2007, the band faced tragedy while on tour near Russia when drummer Vitek was killed in a van accident. The band appeared to be done, but reformed in 2009 with a new lineup and released two albums: Carnival is Forever (2011) and Blood Mantra (2014), which keep the spirit and exceptional talent of drummer Vitek alive with a sound that is out of this world in its technical, pristine approach to death metal. 8. Obituary Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Obituary came up in 1984, during a time when death metal was new but on fire. After a brief period known as Executioner, the band changed its name and Obituary was born out of the darkness. Vocalist Donald Tardy's unmistakable, throaty growl sounds like an animal being tortured. The heavy bass and a groove also set them apart from other bands. This slowed-down style became a part of Obituary's trademark sound. The band's debut album, Slowly We Rot (1989), is a genre classic, with a murky, bass-heavy and electrified sound that very few bands can re-create but many try to emulate. Like others who helped forge this genre, Obituary is far from dead, with a solid heavy touring schedule and its latest release, Blood (2014). 7. Morbid Angel As one of the first American death metal bands, Tampa's Morbid Angel have been around for more than two and a half decades. Despite lineup changes, the group has always included guitar wizard Trey Azagthoth. It did at one time feature drummer Pete Sandoval, but the most recent lineup featured guitarist Destructhor, bassist/vocalist David Vincent and drummer Tim Yeung. Over the years, the band received notoriety for its videos, an appearance on Beavis and Butt-Head, and tours around the world. Also, each album was titled in alphabetical order, starting with the classic 1989 debut Altars of Madness (1989), Blessed Are the Sick (1991), Covenant (1993), Domination (1995), and four more, including the 2011 release, Illud Divinum Insanus. 6. Nile What does South Carolina have to do with ancient Egypt? Nothing, until you delve into the majestic, phenomenal, and brutal music of Nile, a band proving that the scariest, fastest sounds of death metal don't always have to be about serial killers, corpses, blood, and zombies. In this case, they are about but pharaohs, pyramids, tombs, and other ancient relics and mysticism from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Formed by mastermind guitarist Karl Sanders, a fascination with Egyptology gives this band a identity all its own among its extreme metal peers. Nile's place in death metal should not be overlooked, and with millions of fans and albums sold worldwide, the band has held onto a legacy that will like Egypt, be immortal in the pages of history. Nile has released eight albums, including this year's What Should Not Be Unearthed. 5. Suffocation An NYC unit formed in the late '80s that always brings us the kind of heavy music ideal to break someone's nose in the slam pit. The blast beats are perfected on albums like Breeding the Spawn, along with the shriek of inhuman vocalist Frank Mullen whose sputtering hand movements embody the speed of the music. 4. Deicide Deicide is a band draped in the darkness of the devil since forming in the mid-'80s. The band's name (as you can probably guess) translates into "The Killing of God." Led by bassist and vocalist Glen Benton, this is music Lucifer would love. Benton's tortured, anguished style of vocals, and lyrics for Deicide's songs has been dedicated to bashing anything having to do with God. Benton was known early on as a crazy motherfucker. Years of rumors about the band included animal sacrifices at shows, devil worship, and self-mutilation. Benton does have one real scar to prove he is legit: an inverted cross on his forehead that was branded on years and years ago. Today, Benton is more of a father and metal businessman, taking Deicide on tour or recording most of the year while juggling a family and living a semi-normal life. After a dozen studio albums, the band is still as fast and evil-sounding as ever and although Benton might have calmed down, his music with the band is relentless in nature. 3. At the Gates This is an extreme metal band of Swedish melodic masters whom many consider to be the architects of the classic Gothenburg death metal sound. This fast, beautifully orchestrated sound highlights the beauty of suffering and melody of managing themes like suicide and morbidity. The clear, sometimes polished sound mixes with the anguished vocals of Tomas Lindberg. The band was active in the '90s, but broke up in 1996, within a year or so after the release of the band's classic record, Slaughter of the Soul. But about a decade later, the band reformed due to demand and popularity and with a new album, At War With Reality (2014), and are conquering the touring circuit again to many pleased fans around the globe. 2. Death Known to many as the forefathers of death metal, Florida's Death was formed in the early '80s by a young, visionary metal guitarist known as Chuck Schuldiner. Although over the years, into the '90s, the band underwent many lineup changes, Schuldiner remained the leading force and drive behind the band's music. Initially, formed as band obsessed with zombies, blood, and gore, Death eventually became a philosophical, psychological themed band with lyrics about human suffering and emotions rather than the undead. The music itself also progressed into a sound that bent the lines between death metal and progressive metal, metal and thrash, and solidified Schuldiner's role as one of the most crucial songwriters, musicians and vocalists of his era. Sadly, in 2001, at age 34, Schuldiner died of complications of a brain tumor. But with eight studio albums and many metal musicians who have worked with Schuldiner, in one way or another, the legacy and influence of Death is sure to live on. 1. Cannibal Corpse These guys are hands down, the undisputed kings of death metal. Featuring vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, bassist Alex Webster, and guitarists Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett, the band's blood-soaked career spans over a quarter of a century, and 13 studio albums (including the latest release, A Skeletal Domain), making them one of the most successful and bestselling extreme metal bands. Cannibal Corpse's music has (both records and live performances) has been banned in several countries. The music, artwork, lyrics and song titles have shocked, sickened and angered many, and instigated many more mosh pits and head banging/neck twirling sessions. Cannibal Corpse has toured the globe, sold well over a million albums, and have even appeared in the hit movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, starring Jim Carrey, who is a huge fan.
Today, the band shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and is getting faster and more brutal as time goes on. The band's popularity is also on the rise, and especially among younger fans seeking heavier, more extreme music. In terms of the dark, violent, raging and twisted nature of the music, even the older albums, with the original singer and lyricist Chris Barnes, still scares people with a sound that might be imagined to some as a musical autopsy.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE...
Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.