Starter Kit: Old School Death Metal

Starter Kit analyzes the ins-and-outs of some of the more obscure and niche sub-genres within the metal spectrum and offers a small group of bands that best represent the sound.

8 years ago

Starter Kit analyzes the ins-and-outs of some of the more obscure and niche sub-genres within the metal spectrum and offers a small group of bands that best represent the sound. Read other Starter Kit entries here.

Metal has always had a peculiarly large love for its own past. No other genre really holds such days of yore in the same form of all-encompassing reverence; the metal music community seems to be always looking backwards, never to the front. There doesn’t seem to be a real reason why, either: there’s just as much good, innovative, heavy music within metal as there was 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, it’s easily arguable that metal has, as the years go on, only gotten more innovative and interesting as it’s learned to play to its own strengths as a genre, but that’s a whole other article worth of stuff right there.

There’s one genre, however, where the older material certainly reigns supreme: death metal. Old-school death metal bands are a beast entirely their own; as modern death metal becomes more and more of a template to build off of and straightforward death metal bands become a less and less common breed, the classics remain here for our pleasure.

And it’s these classics we’re here to discuss. Older genres that had their prime before the days of the internet can be notoriously hard nuts to crack, as discussion over them has slowed down tremendously, and classics lists don’t necessarily contain the genre’s most accessible pieces of music (Crimson by Edge of Sanity, anyone?). So, that’s why I’m here: to lead you through this maze of riffs, hoarse shouts, and blast beats so that you, too, can emerge a master of old-school death metal, but remember, the first thing to know is that everyone just refers to it as OSDM. And, with that, to quote the television show Rick And Morty, “AWAAAYYYY we go!”

morbid angel 1989

Hands down, this is THE old-school death metal album. Trey Azagthoth’s incredible guitarwork and riffery make this more than just a classic OSDM album, they make it a classic metal album in general. Every track offers fretboard wizardry and ferocious blast beats, the vocalist’s harsh cries about the glory of Satan and various murders add a frenzied energy to every track, and the raw production makes the whole album feel… alive. It’s a totally different beast than anything you’ve ever heard, in-your-face with murderous intent and nihilistic glee, and you’re going to fucking love it.

death 1988 leprosy

What is there left to even say about Death that someone hasn’t already said more eloquently than I ever could? Chuck Schuldiner was a fucking visionary and his incredible music is a legacy that nobody else can really ever touch. His work with Death was beyond amazing, and it’s here, on Leprosy, that he well and truly pulls out all the stops and delivers on the promise of creating absolutely astounding music. Everything feels perfectly locked in step, the vocal performance is grimy and full of malicious life, and the whole record just REEKS of the level of evil that you can’t really get anywhere on modern records.

bolt thrower 2005

Bolt Thrower is like the Call of Duty of death metal bands: everything is centered around war, it’s all grim and evil, and everything is the same on every release (although they occasionally get the formula more or less great than usual). TOL is their undisputed masterpiece; their sound is cranked up to 11 and they just let everything rip here. The songwriting is top-notch, every performance clicks perfectly, and the whole record shines with a brilliant level of attention to detail and subtlety, both concepts notoriously absent from the genre. It’s a great entry point because everything about this record is entirely on point. Bolt Thrower is here to do one thing — smash faces — and they do not disappoint in that regard.


Entombed – Left Hand Path
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious
Possessed – Seven Churches
Obituary – Cause Of Death
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten

Simon Handmaker

Published 8 years ago