Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Via Kerrang Magazine : "Before it became the genre every non-metal fan uses to imitate what extreme music sounds like, death metal was beautifully weird. When the art form officially broke off of thrash in the very late ’80s and swelled dangerously in the early ’90s, it was a strange and experimental genre, in some ways more resonant with the disgusting extremism of punk than metal’s sword-and-stone fantasy. But like any musical culture, the outlandish pioneers gave way to bands wanting to sound just like them, and so eventually death metal became a body of music with discernible and at times cliched boundaries.
But if the past 10 years have proved anything, it’s that death metal still has fertile soil in which to dig a shallow grave. A new wave of crashing, creative, and most of all diverse death metal bands has crashed onto the scene in recent years, making the genre once more a place to find unique and insane talent. To celebrate this creative resurrection, we cataloged 50 bands who are championing the genre’s various foul and brutal niches right now. The rules for inclusion were that a) the bands had to be specifically death metal (we love you, Rivers Of Nihil, but you’re your own weird beast), b) the bands had to be active, c) their first full-length albums had to have come out in 2010 or later, and d) they had to have at least one full studio LP out (sorry, Oxalate!). Here are the 50 bands who best remind us that death conquers all…
It’s as though Vitriol are wearing armor forged of contempt and disgust. The Portland outfit’s debut, last year’s To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice, is about as enraged as they come, and though its technicality presents itself immediately, it’s the underlying sense of menace that makes Bathe so powerful. According to vocalist/guitarist Kyle Rasmussen, the band are just fine with that. “I don’t view it as a part of my responsibility to have that conversation with the listeners of Vitriol — to reconcile our approach with them,” he told Kerrang!
Given that Sweden’s LIK features members of Witchery, Katatonia, and The Ugly, it would be downright surprising if they sucked. Instead, the band are vehemently rad, performing the melodic death metal of old with added doses of noisy modern production and merciless wrath. 2018’s Carnage was a masterful cyclone of buzzsaw-edged violence, while their latest single, last year’s Revel In Gore, was as in-your-face as anything they’ve ever done. A perfect example of how much fucking fun you can have listening to death metal.
48. ZEALOT CULT
Drop a human kidney into a tank of piranha and you’ll have an idea of how Zealot Cult sound. The Limerick, Ireland-based metallers move at a frenzied pace, blasting speedily through one riff after another amidst a sea of flickering cymbal and double bass. This puts them in a separate league from many modern bands, trading the rumble and strain of Autopsy for the writhing fury of acts like Morbid Angel and Death. 2018’s Spiritual Sickness is a ripping listen, so long as you can keep up.
In many ways, Ossuarium sum up the Pacific Northwest’s currently booming death metal scene. The Portland quartet’s sound has a cavernous thunder and a creepy-crawl vibe that exemplify the region’s foggy sense of morbidity. Last year’s debut full-length Living Tomb was a grand success, showing the world just how dedicated this band are to sounding like exactly what their name suggests: an ancient church of rotting bones.
Plenty of bands rip off Death inadvertently; only one does so with shameless abandon. Helmed by Exhumed frontman Matt Harvey, Gruesome’s MO is to pay homage to a different era of Chuck Schuldiner’s genre-defining band with each album. That the result is extremely fucking cool shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the extent to which it’s entertaining is impressive given how easily a Death not-quite-tribute band could suck. Sometimes, you just want the Reaper you know.
Wisconsin doesn’t usually stand out as a place to inspire relentless beatdown metal, but Micawber makes you wonder if it should. The Two Rivers brutal death metal quartet play a polished, abrasive form the genre that’ll blow the cheese hat off of the average listener. At the same time, the band’s right-at-the-surface sound doesn’t mean they lose atmosphere points, as their more dissonant stomping riffs keep them good and menacing. Interestingly enough, they also do an absolutely punishing King Diamond cover, proving that pure sonic warfare can still feel theatrical.
44. BEYOND CREATION
Beyond Creation continue to remind fans that Quebec is home to some of tech death’s most versatile minds. The Montreal four-piece’s music is baroque in its incorporation of long-form emotion, nimble progressiveness, and ten-ton guttural punishment. While 2018’s Algorythm might be a little flowery for some old-school basement dwellers (no shame, who doesn’t love a basement?), Beyond Creation’s ability to keep fans hooked throughout their intricate song structures speaks to their dedication to the genre at its heshing core.
43. TORTURE RACK
Sometimes, death metal can feel a little obsessed with the clammy hand of the zombie and loses its pure, seething anger. But Portland’s Torture Rack have thankfully cast off such shackles of over-thought, propelled first and foremost by a fury you can really hear in their music. 2018’s Malefic Humiliation is powered by its spleen, never dropping below a stampede and gnashing its teeth all the way. If the crypt gets a little dull for you, these Americans will throw you kicking and screaming back into the pit.
How furious can one band be? New Jersey’s Hath seem to be testing that hypothesis, creating brutal, throttling death metal that sounds inherently angrier than that of other bands. Last year’s Of Rot And Ruin was an absolutely punishing debut, with aspects of black metal’s arch-hatred coloring the quartet’s otherwise bludgeoning profile. It’s good to know that as so many death metal acts move towards the moldy, OSDM edge of the spectrum, there’s still a band out there just trying to hate you to death.
41. CADAVERIC INCUBATOR
Just, madness. Cadaveric Incubator are a solid reminder to metalheads the world over that while Europe is often credited with the genre’s more melodic side, their propensity for blistering grind is ever-present. The Finnish trio’s monumental 2017 release Sermons Of The Devouring Dead is a tour de force of sonic horror, bringing all the unholy hell that old-school Euro-death fans crave (and, oddly enough, containing one of the most compelling songs about Dracula in years). Though the band have been around since 2005, they’re only hitting their stride now, proving that sometimes you need to let a cadaver fester a bit before it’s ready to eat.
40. COFFIN ROT
When the opening track of an album is titled Copremesis (look it up), you know what you’re in for. Portland’s Coffin Rot definitely bring the gore metal, but their incorporation of elements from throughout the genre give them a sharp, exciting edge. While some bands go full cesspool, these guys are thrashy as fuck, galloping through the muck with tireless rage. Of course, their reverb-drenched vocals still add that lo-fi horror element to their stuff, coupling with their speed and anger to place them just between Impaled and Mortician – a solid area to dwell for sure.
39. CREEPING DEATH
Naming one’s band after Metallica’s most epic anthem takes balls, but Texans Creeping Death are happy to back up their moniker. The band’s full-length debut, last year’s Wretched Illusions, goes absolutely huge, with a hardcore-tinged bulk that will have listeners throttling along (and is just a damn pleasure to witness live). The band’s earlier material certainly slays, but even they agree that their new album is their greatest triumph. “We’ve become a much more solid, cohesive unit, and it really shows on Wretched Illusions,” told Kerrang! in September. Amen to that.
You can say this for Sewercide: they’ve got visual representation down. The horrific guts-monster on the front of the Melbourne duo’s 2016 album Immortalized In Suffering is a solid representation of what you’ll hear on the record. Clunky yet deadly, unpolished and irritable, Immortalized proves that death metal doesn’t need to be a non-stop barrage of riffs and BPM to sound absolutely deadly. Delicious even if it isn’t always easy going down.
37. UNFATHOMABLE RUINATION
Calling Unfathomable Ruination’s completely destructive 2019 album Enraged And Unbound ‘jaunty’ may not be totally accurate or fair. It’s more that the London-based quintet have a spring in their step that is sometimes missing in the groan-and-growl world of modern death metal. But that just makes the record old-school on a rolling basis, hailing early material by acts like Origin and Dying Fetus in its ability to mix up the tempo and vibe. Of course, all that really matters is that it fucking rips, and continues to cement these guys as one of the must-hear acts of the current scene.
36. CASKET HUFFER
Don’t let their name fool you – Casket Huffer aren’t all about blood, guts, and rotten corpses (though they certainly enjoy those topics). Instead, the Wyoming four-piece add a sense of panicked black-metal grandeur to their grinding take on modern death metal. This injection of the left hand path makes them a refreshing listen where many modern bands are content to trundle forward. A young act who can cross genre boundaries, provided all listeners are down with leather and medieval torture devices.
Naming your Italian death metal band after zombie horror’s infamous Italian director is pretty ballsy, but Fulci back it up. The Campania three-piece play thundering gore metal that combines the hum and punch of classic Mortician with the updated rhythms and gang vocals of later genre legends like Nile. The result sounds inherently gross and old-school but never like something you’ve ever heard before. As satisfying as the wood-meets-eye scene (you know the one).
In a way, ‘weird’ is the appropriate words for Krypts’ music – not just ‘weird’ in that it’s unusual, but ‘weird’ in the old, literary, Lovecraftian sense of the word. The Finnish four-piece’s music adorns its steady, echoing steamroll with guitar harmonies and dissonant riffs that community images of arched insectoid legs and too many eyes. As such, they are one of the more convincing occult death metal bands, draping their music in a misty atmosphere that’s genuine in its far-flung terror.
33. GLACIAL TOMB
While plenty of contemporary death metal bands incorporate doom into their sound, few utiliize as much of that scene’s nastier contributions as Colorado’s Glacial Tomb. The band’s 2018 self-titled debut incorporates aspects of Arkansas sludge and modern experimental groove (think Gojira), thus birthing a brand of death metal that throbs with pervasive-if-unnamable darkness. That the band is led by Khemmis’ Ben Hutcherson only further elaborates on how they’ve created such a beautifully ugly sonic bastard.
32. GENOCIDE PACT
Listen to Genocide Pact’s 2018 release Order Of Torment, and you’ll be unsurprised to discover they hail from Washington, D.C. The four-piece’s music is undoubtedly death metal, but there’s an element to the breakdowns and charges therein that smacks of old-school hardcore. Not that the band were too entrenched in one scene or the other back in the day, with drummer Connor Donegan telling us, “We didn’t necessarily come from hardcore backgrounds, it was just where we ended up. It was the scene that we got involved in.” With music this good, we’ll take it.
With 2018’s Matricide, Cognitive proved themselves one of modern death metal’s most riveting acts. While the band’s previous efforts had been far more focused on technicality, this latest album goes heavy on the groove and atmosphere, and as such feels as ominous as it does furious. Meanwhile, the Jobbstown, New Jersey, quintet’s live show has shown that their sonic barrage translates into an awesome spectacle. Further affirmation that nothing’s more brutal than being from Jersey.
Out of the gate, Pissgrave accomplish what death metal was always meant to do: gross out the squares. The covers of both of the Philly-based band’s albums – 2015’s Suicide Euphoria and 2019’s Posthumous Humiliation – feature the kind of crime-scene imagery that’ll give even weathered fans a taste of their own bile. That said, Pissgrave’s music follows through on that gut-punch, with frenetic chainsaw riffs and muddled vocals that sound like the brainwaves of a serial necrophiliac. If you’re gonna spew, spew into this.
In Mortuous’s music, there’s something vital to great death metal: a winning mix of riffs and drumming. It’s not that skinsman Chad Gailey plays bonkers fast or that guitarists Colin Tarvin and Mike Beams are reinventing the wheel, only that the former player’s steady and elaborate patterns seem to blend perfectly with the latter two’s churning and wailing. The accents and solos on Bitterness from 2018’s Through Wilderness show this off, matching solid percussion and delicious ax-work to great effect. One of the scene’s rising best, and a band to keep a close watch on.
28. TRIUMVIR FOUL
For some reason, it’s easy to assume Triumvir Foul are a black metal band. Maybe it’s their blending of murky orc-ish vocals with nonstop aural mayhem, or the dramatic way they express their total misanthropy. Maybe it’s even that the word ‘triumvir’ invokes a sort of medieval European image in the reader’s mind. Whatever the case may be, the Portland band’s rancor is palpable on 2019’s Urine Of Abomination EP, and should show other death metal bands how not to just aim for the neck, but impale the head on a stake for all to see.
One doesn’t always think of ‘vampiric death metal’ as a thing (especially when black metal accommodates that side of horror so much more easily), but Ireland’s Vircolac pull it off with impressive finesse. But don’t let that qualifier fool you – there’s no flowery harpsichord or clean vocals here, only the musty, jostling tones of the crypt, harkening back to the undead’s creepy, esoteric origins. The band’s previous EPs have cemented them as a genre staple, though last year’s full-length debut Masque definitely took them to a new level of production and cohesion. The blood is the life.
If any band sound exactly like their namesake, it’s Canadian horror metallers VHS. The Thunder Bay trio play junky, croaky death-grind about classic splatter flicks, firmly rooted in enjoying gore without taking it too seriously. Not content with violent slashers, though, last year’s We’re Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs was all about aquatic horror movies, examining everything from Jaws to the carnivorous algae from Creepshow 2. Sometimes, the special effects are better when they’re kind of crappy
Though there’s a clattering, frantic side to much of their music, Washington’s Mortiferum are definitely firmly set in the death-doom subgenre. And this is to their credit – like legendary acts such as Hooded Menace and Coffins, the Olympia quartet don’t lose any ground by going slow and creepy. If anything, the steady pace on 2019’s Disgorged From Psychotic Depths only raises the profile of their stomach-ache doom riffs, framing them so that they never feel boring. Pure headbanging madness.
Simply put, you need to earn an apostrophe in extreme metal. But Canadians Chthe’ilist certainly do that and then some, loading their music with the type of unholy noise and strained yearning that would make Lovecraft jump out the window in fear. On 2016’s Le Dernier Crepuscle, these Quebecois overlords bring not only the heavy but the sunless and eerie, exuding a sense of apocalyptic lunacy in the merging of their pendulous slower sections and their world-devouring noise. Hard to pronounce, but easy to play again and again.
23. ARTIFICIAL BRAIN
A hard left-turn defines the music of Long Island’s Artificial Brain, whose sound merges tech-death, OSDM, and bizarre bits and pieces of prog and black metal. On 2017’s Infared Horizon, songs like Static Shattering and Anchored To The Inlayed Arc bring quite a bit of straightforward guttural nastiness, but these are tempered by far-out guitar harmonies and rattling, non-Euclidian drums. This, plus frontman Will Smith’s pained howl, makes them a band for the weirder chud within us all, though the chud nonetheless.
California’s Teeth took five years between 2014’s Unremittance and last year’s The Curse Of Entropy, but the latter album is proof that that absence only makes the heart grow fouler. The new Teeth is a hurricane of tyrannical riffs encased in a cage of barbed-wire drumming. “The writing process for The Curse of Entropy was pretty destructive,” guitarist Erol Ulug told us when we premiered the album, “in the sense that we scrapped a lot of ideas in the process of sorting out what we felt was the strongest material.” Only the strongest riffs survive.
With Vastum, it all starts at the guitar tone. The Bay Area death merchants have an edge to their riffs that make them sound instantly more venomous than many of their peers. With that comes medieval charges and black metal-tinged solos that give the tracks on last year’s Orificial Purge a shadowy hostility. Consistent and steady in their output, the band have earned themselves a solid reputation for their arch-darkness, something occasionally missing in this world of juds and grunts.
20. OUTER HEAVEN
The unique sound of Pennsylvania’s Outer Heaven comes from, among other things, their willingness to embrace a style of death metal others have forgotten. “You hear bands every other day who sound like Incantation,” frontman Austin Haines told us back in 2018. “It’s not every single day that you have bands coming out of the woodwork worshipping Steve Tucker-era Morbid Angel.” That Gateways To Annihilation-era boil, mixed with the moldy echoes of modern death metal, quickly made 2018’s Realms of Eternal Decay one of the year’s most notable releases within the genre. Sometimes your guilty pleasure is your greatest strength.
19. OF FEATHER AND BONE
Unlike many of the other bands on this list, Colorado’s Of Feather And Bone don’t leave much room for groove and swing. Even the slower moments on 2018’s devastating Bestial Hymns Of Perversion are an absolute tempest of grinding distortion and hateful bellows. Maybe it’s the band’s beginnings as a hardcore punk outfit that made their switch to death metal so starkly terrifying. However it happened, the sound they’ve forged is like a poison dart straight to the throat and the terrifying spasms that follow – in other words, gold for fans of total darkness.
Blecch. Imagine the sonic equivalent of trying to walk through a sewer full of dead bodies, and you have an idea of what Pacific Northwesterners Fetid have going for them. The cover of last year’s Steeping Corporeal Mess looks like a carnivorous colonoscopy, and the music on it does that concept justice, stomping along with a gnarly, bottom-feeder attitude that would be gore metal if its weren’t so moldy and ornery. Given the overcast nature of their surroundings, it’s unsurprising that this trio sounds less like raining blood and more like a fog of pus.
17. THE OMINOUS CIRCLE
Plenty of modern death metal sounds like festering human entrails, but few bands evoke thoughts of crumbling temples and creeping vines as The Ominous Circle. The Portuguese four-piece bring an ancient-ness to their music that will remind fans of classic Behemoth, but do so in a frame of black metal gravitas that makes it sound less like warfare, more like decay. While 2017’s Appalling Ascension might not have all the blood and monsters that some fans require, it’ll certainly endear itself to metalheads who perceive humanity less as mere meat and more as a walking poison.
Not only do Finland’s Desecresy play the kind of arcane, misanthropic death-doom that sometimes feels lacking in other corners of the modern scene, but they have another important weapon in their arsenal: drive. The band has released an album at least every two years since 2010’s Arches Of Entropy, each more brooding and ancient-sounding than the last. While they’ve rarely breached the surface of the scene’s mainstream, the Helsinki duo have amassed a solid in-the-know following of people who find their unholy slog nowhere else.
Frenetic, weighty, and obsessed with cancer in all its forms – Pyrrhon have really championed the unconventional side of death metal for the past decade. With each album, the New York-based tech-death act have gotten weirder and scabbier, never content with traditional song structure or rhythms. But this sense of all-elbows antisocial behavior is also what makes them amazing, a force of unnerving mania in what can sometimes be predictable world of zombie horror and satanic fantasy. If you’ve ever found yourself entranced by a smashed rat on the pavement, this is the band for you.
Belgium’s Carnation are about as true to this list’s thesis as it comes – the band only formed in 2013, and their debut full-length, Chapel Of Abhorrence, didn’t drop until 2018. But their mixture of old-school brutality and melodic infectiousness have instantly won them a place in the hearts of hardened heads; Chapel is a perfect blending of classic death metal sub-genres that will have fans of any sub-scene holding up the claw. Just because it’s meat and potatoes doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty as all hell.
The beauty of Scorched is that they’re one of those death metal bands who would fit right in on a hardcore playlist. At the end of the day, their acrobatic contortions and burbling vocals give this Delaware five-piece a distinctly metal vibe, but their breakdowns are so ham-fisted, and their meaner slow riffs so punkish and sneering, that these dudes will forever be loved by the less entrenched headbangers. Just because faces are punched and not hammer-smashed doesn’t mean there won’t be blood.
Part of what makes Necrot so easily to love is the line they walk between metal, grind, and crust. The Oakland trio’s music is undeniably death metal, but their lush guitar tone includes a basement-show fuzz that feels low to the ground. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re on Tankcrimes, the weed-friendly label best known for acts like Cannabis Corpse and Municipal Waste, that gives them such a gnarly side. Whatever it is, these guys have found a tone that clearly suits them, and which sets them apart from the blood-drenched pack.
11. WITCH VOMIT
What a name. Portland’s Witch Vomit support their foul moniker with an unrelenting blast of sonic hideousness that’s as wily as it is gross. On the one hand, the band go as mercilessly fast and kinetic as any brutal death metallers in the current underworld; on the other, their use of moody riffs and melodies give them an occultish nuance that’s in touch with both Swedish melodeath and Floridian ooze. If you’re buying a record by a band with a name like this, you have a certain type of music in mind, and thankfully, these guys deliver.
10. REVEL IN FLESH
Melodic death metal gets a bad rap due to how polished the genre eventually became, but Revel In Flesh prove that it still has some bite. The German quintet play a serrated, virulent strain of melodeath, with guitars that are as wild as they are infectious and rhythms that keep heads steadily banging. Last year’s The Hour Of The Avenger was solid proof that even in the technically-obsessed modern scene, there’s still room for death metal’s delicious side. If you’re sick of riff whirlwinds, these guys are a solid reminder of just how easy to love old-school death metal can be.
On paper, a death metal band about slugs sounds more like a novelty than an incredible addition to the scene. But Lancashire’s Slugdge have proved themselves something more than a gimmick with their bizarre, technically-adept sound. Rather than just describe slugs eating people – a noble endeavor, to be sure – the band give their invertebrate overlords a Lovecraftian occult gravity, using their eldritch riffs and rhythms to portray a dark, slime-covered future. A band you’ll surprise yourself by liking so much.
8. TOMB MOLD
Few artists bloomed in 2019 quite like Canadians Tomb Mold. The band had picked up ample underground steam with their previous releases, but it was last year’s Planetary Clairvoyance that thrust their ugly, churning sound into the faces of the metal-loving world at large. On that record, the band also began detaching themselves from the video game-inspired themes of their earlier material and fully coming into their own. “This isn’t a continuation of the world built on [2018’s Manor Of Infinite Forms],” guitarist Derrick Vella told Kerrang! last year. “It’s a separate entity – it is its own thing.” If sonic progression sounds this brutally powerful, we’ll take it every time.
Some bands slam and crush, but Denmark’s Undergang just melt. Unlike most other acts obsessed with anatomy, this OSDM four-piece take things slow and gross, the result being a sound that fully embraces death metal’s clammier side, and has won over fans of doom and crust punk to their cause. Given Undergang’s impact on the scene in the mere decade they’ve been around, they’re solid proof that sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
It’s hard enough to combine two unlistenable genres in a way that’s accessible, but it takes significant chops to make that music tasty as fuck. But Philadelphia’s Horrendous have made progressive death not only listenable, but also thoroughly satisfying at every turn. 2018’s Idol doesn’t skimp on the odd time signatures and dreamy interludes, but it’s also packed full of the sort of thick, riffy goodness that one came to death metal for in the first place. That, plus their enthusiastic live show, makes this one of the rare bands that even more learned and unorthodox death metal fans can totally bro out over.
5. BLOOD INCANTATION
It’s hard to believe that the name ‘Blood Incantation’ has become so highly respected across the entire metal world, but the Denver, Colorado-based band truly dominated their sonic realm last year. While 2016’s Starspawn introduced audiences to the band’s bludgeoning brand of doomy death metal, 2019’s Hidden History Of The Human Race let them know the depths these four dudes are willing to go. Ambitious in its scope but unmovable in its weight, Hidden History is a modern classic, a gem of obscure ire that will have fans of Nile and Immolation doing a double take to make sure it’s real. Tremendous.
4. VENOM PRISON
Rarely does a death metal band match their message with momentum quite like Venom Prison do. The South Wales five-piece take an approach to their art and lyrics that might make your typical conservative death metaller uncomfortable, but they back it up with so much vehemence and power – dear God, that fucking guitar tone! – that it’s impossible to blow off. In this way, the band are spearheading the next wave of death metal musicians, who reject lazy cliches in return for raw, awesome impact. In the words of Leonard Cohen: get ready for the future – it is murder.
3. TEMPLE OF VOID
Detroit’s Temple Of Void have been hyped up heavily in the underground since the release of 2014’s Of Terror And the Supernatural, and every word of that praise is deserved. The band’s eerie death doom has a unique pitch-black quality to it, a stomping inevitability that justifies their epic album art; 2017’s Lords Of Death only added a heaping dose of aggression to the mix. With a new album set to drop later this year, it’s clear the band will continue ruling over extreme metal’s subterranean vaults. A pleasure to listen to every time.
2. SPECTRAL VOICE
It doesn’t necessarily make Spectral Voice’s music better that they only perform with all the lights turned off. But it does speak to the artistic dedication one can hear in the tunes of this Denver outfit. The gloom hanging over Spectral Voice’s brand of death metal is powerful and all-encompassing, communicated just as much in the band’s echoing production as their lurching riffs. That the band share multiple members with listmates Blood Incantation makes sense, as the two acts’ similarities are palpable, but Spectral Voice capture the inky soul of their sound just a bit more powerfully than Blood Incantation, and their take on the genre feels ever slightly more breathtaking. Listen if you dare – preferably with the lights off.
It’s no surprise to anyone that Gatecreeper have taken the world by storm. The Arizona death metal powerhouse have it all – incredible riffs, believable ferocity, fifty-story production, a killer name, and a live show that will make any attendee move. From the moment they released their self-titled EP, the band were underground darlings, but it wasn’t until last year’s monumental Deserted – a perfect distillation of a style they call “stadium death metal” – that Gatecreeper finally earned that title that this list bestows on them. This is a band you cannot afford to miss live, and should probably be listening to right now if you’re not."
Originally written by Chris Krovatin for Kerrang.com