Death Metal albums for beginners

Written by on January 19, 2022

Author’s note: The research and final choices of this article couldn’t have happened without the input of Francisco Mendoza, Alvaro “Txondo” López, Edenkaiser guitarist Alfred “Hawkmoon” Carmona and a man that goes by the name Betrayer Petrozza. Their knowledge and input was much appreciated.

Death Metal is one of the most fascinating Metal subgenres to dab into and also one of the hardest to understand if you’re not experienced about it. The aggressive nature of the music, the utter dark atmosphere, the demonic vocals, lyrics that usually go in par with the music… it’s easy to understand why people, even longtime metalheads, could struggle getting into bands of this particular style. And this is why, supported by some friends knowledgeable on the field, I decided to write an article about the best Death Metal albums for beginners.

Now, I cannot take all credit for this idea because this was inspired by the YouTube channel Thralls of Metal where they recommended their own set of Death Metal albums and I truly suggest you to check out their video because they also have some interesting alternatives and some we have in common:

In that regard, and following their own mindset, this list is intended for people that are already into Metal but have struggled to get into Death Metal as a whole. This is why we have suggestions for people that prefer more melodic music, those that perhaps are more into the technical side of things, the ones somewhat used to extreme Metal and so on.

Well, without further ado, here you have our suggestions for best Death Metal albums for beginners.

Entombed – Left Hand Path (1990).

For people that want to understand classic, late 80s/early 90s Death Metal, what better way than starting with this absolutely legendary album?

The debut of Swedish band Entombed, 1990’s Left Hand Path, is the perfect representation of what Death Metal stands for: dark lyrics, sheer aggressiveness, tight musicianship that combines skills with power, dark atmosphere and an oppressive production that makes you feel overpowered by the music. It is a very heavy, intense and abrasive album, but one that is filled with powerful riffs by the great Uffe Cederlund on guitar, demonic vocals by singer Lars-Göran Petrov (who sadly passed away in 2021) and a mighty performance by drummer Nicke Andersson (who plays in multiple bands, including Lucifer, whose vocalist, Johanna Sadonis, we interviewed here and also happens to be Nicke’s wife).

One of the best and most important Death Metal albums of all time and one that has been reviewed, analyzed and documented on incessantly throughout the years, so this is an essential listen if you want to understand this subgenre to the core.

You can buy the album here.

Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients (1991).

Before we focus on the music, let’s talk about the beautiful cover! Definitely one of the most beautiful in the Metal genre as a whole and one that really sells you the prospect of listening to the album.

For people that don’t know, Pestilence is a band from the Netherlands that started in the mid-80s and their first two albums, 1988’s Malleus Maleficarum and 1989’s Consuming Impulse, showed them in a more traditional approach to the Death Metal genre, definitely relying on intensity and brutality, but their 1991 release, Testimony of the Ancients, has them taking their songwriting up a little notch and at the same time adding a few more layers to their music.

This album is a very good listen for people that like intense music but also a bit of melody and rhythm, which is something that Testimony of the Ancients has in spades: there is a lot of heavy and intense songs, but they are sprinkled with melodic interludes through the use of synths and keyboards, riffs more reminiscent of classic Thrash Metal than what Death Metal was at the time and overall a nice mix of melodies with extreme.

A highly-regarded album that I often feel gets a bit overlooked when analyzing the best Death Metal records and this one is definitely worth your time.

You can buy the album here.

In Flames – Subterranean (1995).

Okay, I know I broke the rules a bit because this one is an EP and not a CD, but bear with me.

Although In Flames have radically changed their sound throughout the years, the vast majority of their 90s output is Melodic Death Metal of the highest caliber and this little EP shows the band in a very particular highlight, proving why they were one the key bands of the Gothenburg scene back in the day.

If you are a fan of classic Heavy Metal bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Accept, you are going to find a lot to like in songs such as Stand Ablaze, Ever Dying or the title track. And this is In Flames merely starting out their careers and you can hear that sense of urgency and hunger in the music.

They changed a lot throughout the years, but if you want a lot of great melodies and awesome guitar playing in your Death Metal, influenced by the all-time greats of the 80s, then this Subterranean EP is a great choice for you.

You can buy the EP here.

Morbid Angel – Covenant (1993)

When doing the research for this article, there was a bit of a divide between Death Metal connoisseurs about which Morbid Angel album would be the best entry point for people that want a glimpse of what the genre’s core values are. All of them agreed that their second album, 1991’s Blessed Are the Sick, was a bit more progressive and experimental for the uninitiated and, on the other hand, there was a big debate between their debut, 1989’s Altars of Madness, and their third album, 1993’s Covenant.

I decided to go with Covenant because, while Altars of Madness is one of the all-time classics and masterpieces of the Death Metal genre, quickly establishing as one of the cornerstones of that classic sound, I find this third album a bit more helpful for people that want to get into this kind of music. Covenant finds Morbid Angel at their most mainstream, with an amazing production done by Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Rainbow, Blind Guardian, etc.) and their music maintaining their brutality and technicality while adding a thin layer of commerciality that works extremely well.

It is also the highest-selling Death Metal album of all time, so you can tell that it worked with listeners and it is a very good example that you can add a bit of accessibility to a musical beast like Morbid Angel without sacrificing their identity and aggression. And with tracks like the single Rapture, Vengeance or Angel of Disease, you know everything was alright with Trey and his boys.

You can buy it here.

Carcass – Heartwork (1993).

If you want melodies into your Death Metal but maintaining that hard edge and intensity that has defined the genre, then Carcass’s 1993 release, Heartwork, is definitely one that you should consider.

Widely regarded as one of the definitive albums of 90s Melodic Death Metal, Carcass evolved album by album as a band and they went from sheer brutality to a more composed, musically-structured group that added layers of melody and technicality to their powerful and aggressive songs.

This is how Heartwork came to be and songs like No Love Lost, the title track or Buried Dreams show a band that are in a creative peak and have found a very unique sound that managed to give them a bit more mainstream appeal (or as mainstream as Death Metal can get) and also a legendary status in the Death Metal community.

You can buy it here.

Sodom – Tapping the Vein (1992).

Sodom are mainly a Thrash Metal band and they have built their reputation based on that, but in 1992 they released an album, Tapping the Vein, which drew heavily from Death Metal influences and it can be as a nice bridge between people that are already into extreme stuff but still haven’t gotten used to Death Metal.

If you like Thrash and want to know more about Death Metal, this album could be a very good choice for you because the production is incredible, the guys of Sodom are great songwriters and players and songs like Deadline, The Crippler or Wachturm are great examples of this monolith of German Metal pushing the envelope even further in their sound.

Tapping the Vein is a somewhat underrated piece of the Sodom catalog and an album that is a very nice mix of Thrash and Death Metal.

You can buy it here.

Sepultura – Schizophrenia (1987).

And if we’re talking about bridges between Thrash and Death Metal, no one did it better than 80s Sepultura.

It would have been easier to pick 1989’s Beneath the Remains, but I have a soft spot for their second album, 1987’s Schizophrenia, because it shows the band starting to develop their songwriting and their musical chops. Of course, the arrival of Andreas Kisser to lead guitar was a big step up in the band’s sound and you can tell when you listen to songs like the behemoth that is To the Wall, Escape to the Void or the underrated instrumental that is Inquisition Symphony, which has a lot of influences from Metallica’s Ride the Lightning period.

Sepultura would go on to reach far greater heights both artistically and commercially, but Schizophrenia shows them at the very specific moment that they started to blossom into the best band that South America has ever produced.

You can buy it here.

Dismember – Where Ironcrosses Grow (2004).

Another one of those classic, late 80s Death Metal bands that hailed from Sweden, Dismember have released multiple great albums and I personally think they are all worth your time, but I think 2004’s Where Ironcrosses Grow is a nice entry point for listeners that are more into modern stuff and want a bit of heaviness with their melodies, which is something that this album does in spades.

The production is powerful, the guitar riffs are as loud as you can get and there’s an intensity you rarely from a band that already had a very decent career until this point. It is a relentless album and it doesn’t stop from the very second that you hit play.

I sometimes think that Dismember get a bit forgotten when talking about the best Death Metal bands, but I think they are a great entry point, especially with Where Ironcrosses Grow.

You can buy it here.

Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I (2012).

If you are into Progressive and technical music, then you are hardly going to find a better entry point than Ne Obliviscaris’s 2012 debut album, Portal of I.

Hailing from Australia, they are a fascinating band that combines a lot of Progressive elements with Extreme Metal, specifically Death Metal, making for a very unique brand of music and the type of album that is a journey to listen to. In order to fully appreciate it, you need to listen to it from beginning to end as the songs are long, complex and with a wide variety of rhythm changes, mood swings and whatnot.

A personal favorite song of mine from this album is Forget Not with its slow but memorable build up, but there is much to like about Portal of I and it definitely deserves your attention.

You can buy it here.

Death – Symbolic (1995).

Death is widely regarded as the most influential band in the Death Metal genre, not only for famously kick starting the style with their 1986 debut, Scream Bloody Gore, but also by pushing the envelope in the 90s and going for more melodic, complex and technically adventurous songs in that period of guitarist Chuck Schuldiner’s career. 1995’s Symbolic is viewed by many as Chuck’s creative summit and to some as the best Death Metal album of all time.

You can’t really go wrong with any Death album as they are all phenomenal in their own unique way, but I personally think Symbolic sees the band finding a great balance between songwriting, melodies, brutality, technicality and lyrics, with all of these elements finding a particular peak of Chuck’s career. It is an album that really highlighted his musical progression and how he was definitely one of the best musicians that Metal ever produced.

An absolute cornerstone of not only the Death Metal genre, but all of Metal as a whole and Chuck’s passing in 2001 is still one of the greatest losses that this kind of music has endured.

You can buy it here.

Anything Vader has ever released.

Hailing from Poland, Vader have been one of the most consistent bands to come out of the Death Metal genre and the natural successor to the likes of Death and Morbid Angel, constantly churning out a lot of quality material and being one of the most reliable bands in the Metal genre in terms of output. You can’t go wrong with Vader.

Regardless of the album that you choose, you are going to get a high quality record that is very true to the core values of Death Metal and with a delivery that very few bands in that particular style can provide.

If you are the kind of listener that wants to start with a band and their discography and also want to really understand what Death Metal is all about, then Vader is the right place to start.

You can buy their albums here.

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