Monday, June 20, 2011

Metal Briefs: 1980's Death Metal

I've already covered the areas of early doom metal and First Wave black metal in the metal briefs series, but I have yet to address the first days of death. Old-school death metal has been the subject of a great deal of interest lately, as people are trying to figure out how to marry evil atmosphere with excellent songwriting, an art that has allegedly been lost to time.

Possessed: Seven Churches (1985)

Seven ChurchesFlorida is usually cited as the birthplace of death metal. But California's Possessed is equally acknowledged as the first death metal band, as well as the namesake of the genre by their demo Death Metal (1984) and the song "Death Metal", off their debut Seven Churches. To be fair, they would have been dismissed as merely a very dark thrash metal band had the genre not expanded. Seven Churches sounds, essentially, like a thrash band who listened to a whole lot of Venom. Or, maybe like Venom if they knew how to play their instruments, but didn't write songs quite as well. There is a lot of technicality on the album, including some extended shred sessions and weird jumps in rhythm. The album is ultimately more interesting for historical purposes than any intrinsic merit. The drumming is quite dull, and a couple of the songs are disposable, but all in all there are several very good songs here. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Death: Scream Bloody Gore (1987)

Scream Bloody GoreFlorida's Death is one of the first bands to play what is unequivocally death metal. And it's a testament to the quality of Chuck Schuldiner's band that this may be their weakest album, given the number of amazing songs on here. They set the course that others would follow. In addition to the evil and demonic lyrics like those Possessed borrowed from Venom, they threw in the staples of gore and zombies. And, they went heavier and dirtier, ditching technicality in favor of atmosphere: Firmly establishing everything early death metal was about. (Ironically, the band later went in a progressive direction, which is even better than this.) The songs are what make this album such a legend, and would be worthwhile even if it weren't for their historical value. I give Scream Bloody Gore 4 out of 5 stars.

Morbid Angel: Altars of Madness (1989)

Altars of MadnessWhen people talk about "old school death metal", Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness is exactly the sound they're talking about. It's heavy and filthy, with simple riffs blasted away, and absolutely brutal drumming and raunchy guitar solos that sound like they were written by a madman. The death growls, too, are exactly what you expect from the sound To go along with the classic sound, the legends (only recently fallen from grace) wrote songs that were catchy and scary..This is not just a great album: It's definitive. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Death Strike/Master are criminally underrated influence on the Swedish death metal scene (ie; At The Gates and Entombed name dropped these bands when they played live in Chicago in 2008/2010 respectively), as well as Terrorizer, which was named after a Master song, and Napalm Death. Napalm Death even covered a Master song on their Leaders Not Followers part 2 covers album. I know the first Master album has been reissued somewhere, but the pre-Master band Death Strike had a demo called "Fuckin' Death" that's long out of print.

    Todd Knife of Like Rats fortunately has the Fuckin' Death demo up on his blog, if you dig Possessed and early Death, you should definitely check Death Strike out.

  2. Hmm, I love that Possessed album personally. Yeah it's raw but that's part of the charm I think.

    My personal favorite early death metal releases though were Morbid Visions by Sepultura and Sodom's first EP.