The Golden Era, Part 2In 1991, death metal exploded. More Swe-death bands were digging up through the Scandinavian permafrost, and the Florida swamps were still spawning new horrors. But the best new development was from the urban decay of New York.
Not only was it growing geographically, but also stylistically. The year saw death metal go progressive and technical, with Atheist jumping on the scene and Death recording the first of a magnificent four-album run in their more progressive style. But it also saw further exploration of evil atmosphere, as well as the rise of brutality.
It may be the single best year for death metal, and if I reviewed every album released that year, I'd probably end up with a dozen perfect or near-perfect scores just within that genre. But here are just three worth your attention.
Autopsy: Mental Funeral
California's Autopsy had a different view on death metal from the time they started. They took it slow. It's almost death/doom at times, but that pace allows the creepy atmosphere to take over. Throw in lots of tempo and riff changes and a handful of bizarre solos, and Mental Funeral was something unique at the time. The drumming is interesting and varied (check out the tribal stuff in "Destined to Fester") and the bass is a fully audible grounding to the sometimes strange lead guitar work. A few points must be taken off for a somewhat thin production, and the fact "Dead" seems less than fully-formed. Otherwise, this is a beast. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Dismember: Like an Everflowing Stream
Of course Sweden was still churning out death metal in their own unique national style, and Dismember's debut Like an Everflowing Stream is probably the most important record from the scene that year. It's very similar to Entombed's Left Hand Path, with the heavy buzzsaw guitars and hoarse death growls, but with a few key differences. Dismember seems more adventurous in their songwriting. They explore some higher range riffs and work in some very melodic sections, as well as some rock 'n' roll style rhythms. Comparing the two albums, it's almost hard to believe Entombed was the band to go in the death 'n' roll direction. Luckily, Dismember didn't do that, and this album is an excellent example of Swe-death with a few subtle twists. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Suffocation: Effigy of the Forgotten
I've kept it no secret that New York's Suffocation is one of my all-time favorite bands, death metal or otherwise. They were major innovators of the style, and their full-length debut was at the time the most brutal thing ever committed to tape. This record is the first example of brutal death metal as well as the first technical death metal. It also inspired the rise of slam death, and some would argue it inspired deathcore as well (I would dispute the last assertion). And despite the fact that all of those styles are derided for one reason or another, none of those criticisms can be applied to Suffocation. They write with intelligence, instinct, and finesse that elevates their brutality to a profound level. Anyone aping them seems like a child in comparison. I give Effigy of the Forgotten 5 out of 5 stars.