Brutal death metal has the rare benefit of being exactly what it sounds like. The differences one would expect between “regular death metal” and “brutal death metal” are manifold and, by and large, pretty predictable: guitars are more downtuned; riffs are chunkier and more visceral; vocals are far deeper and even less intelligible; the whole nine yards. As far as subgenres go, it doesn’t exactly shake up its progenitor’s foundations by a relatively large amount, choosing instead to just take everything that makes death metal an already pretty brutal genre and crank that bad boy up to 11. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the ensuing auditory carnage is not for the faint of heart, but it is for anybody that feels like extreme metal just isn’t extreme enough yet. If you’ve ever felt that way—the grooves could be groovier, the riffs could be riffier, the blasts could be blastier, the gutturals could be gutturalier—then brutal death metal is the answer to all your prayers. So without further ado, let’s dive in to what our staff considers to the be the Best Of – Brutal Death Metal!
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)
There are few bands who can stake the claim of turning an entire subgenre of metal on its head, and Suffocation is among the elite. Brutal Death Metal would simply not exist if it weren’t for this band, and especially this album. They harnessed the tools of brutality that bands like Cannibal Corpse, Death, Morbid Angel, and Carcass were toying with at the time and ramped it all up a notch. The growls were deeper, the blast beats were faster, the riffs were more technical, and to top it all off the band injected a venomous dose of hardcore attitude and grooves that still continue to polarize crowds the world over. If you’re not there to mosh, get out of the way.
Effigy of the Forgotten’s impact on the metal world can really be boiled down to One. Simple. Riff. You know the one. The first slam riff in history. How many variations of the breakdown in Liege Of Inveracity have made it onto tape and 1’s and 0’s and through countless PA’s all over the world? Too many to comprehend. Suffocation made it okay for us elitist motherfuckers…the ones in the back crossing our arms the entire show…to have some fun. Effigy of the Forgotten is a snapshot of the golden age of death metal, when the bar was seemingly raised overnight and bands from Florida, New York, and Scandinavia were churning out albums that sent each other back to the rehearsal room to step up their game. All the tropes are here: The Dan Seagrave illustrated cover, the claustrophobic, one fuzzy guitar and one mid range-y guitar Scott Burns production, the trade off solos…and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of The Mutilated (1992)
You almost have to feel a little bad for Chris Barnes. Even though he fronted the Golden Era of Cannibal Corpse’s discography, he’s ended up in one of death metal’s worst bands (Six Feet Under) while Corpsegrinder-era CC only becomes more popular with each new release and Summer Slaughter headlining gig. Newer fans may take issue with my assessment of the Barnes-era, but I find it hard to argue that the four albums he gurgled over aren’t some of the most impactful death metal records in the genre’s history. From Eaten Back to Life (1990) through The Bleeding (1994), everything CC did was instrumental in establishing death metal’s signature tropes, particularly the cartoonish imagery, lyrics and heaviness that countless BDM bands have emulated since. Realistically, all four of the band’s early records deserves a spot on this list. But with additions to the Great Death Metal Songbook like “Hammer Smashed Face” and “I Cum Blood,” Tomb of the Mutilated squeaks by to earn the pinnacle spot in CC’s discography.
Sure, the album’s artwork and subject matter may seem trite by today’s standards, and the band’s OSDM stylings are pretty much as barebones as you can get. But this was pinnacle shock value back in the day, both for concerned parent groups and rabid fans of the burgeoning extreme metal scene. Everything about Tomb of the Mutilated spat on the idea of a boundary; the band’s goal from “Hammer Smashed Face” on through “Beyond the Cemetery” was to pound and pummel their instruments continuously while Barnes belched the most grotesque lyrics possible. Finesse be damned—this as close to a BDM textbook as you’re going to get.
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Cryptopsy – None So Vile (1996)
In 1996, classic death metal was well-established with thriving scenes in America and Europe but the sound was starting to stagnate. It needed something new. Bands like Death and Suffocation advanced death metal forward by adding virtuosic technical playing while others like At The Gates added melody and melancholy. Cryptopsy, however, set a new standard of brutality. None So Vile could certainly be categorized as technical death metal but its complexity isn’t meant to impress the listener like other tech death is. The agile rhythm guitar work by Jonathan Levasseur and expert drum assault by lo Mounier serves as a hyperactive and unstable backdrop for the depravity. Lord Worm completes the onslaught with one of the most unhinged vocal performances on a metal record. Many extreme metal acts of this age embraced bad production, reverby vocals, and sloppy riffing as a means to obscure their sound creating a haunting, murky atmosphere. Cryptopsy goes in the exact opposite direction.
None So Vile’s crisp guitar tones, clear, machine-like drums (that killer snare sound, right?), and precises riffs and solos which constantly shift the beat and tempo devastates the listener with detail and accuracy. The album’s greatest hits, “Crown of Horns” and “Phobophile, are essential to any death metal playlist. For some deeper cuts, listen to the excellent chugfest on “Graves of the Fathers,” the unrelenting “Lichmistress”, and the funk-bass-slap breakdown in the closer, “Orgiastic Disembowlment.”
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–Joe the Bear
Dying Fetus – Destroy the Opposition (2000)
Back when we published our Best Of for tech death, a few of us on staff had a spirited debate about whether or not Dying Fetus even qualified as a member of the genre (the terms “brutal tech death” and “technical BDM” were thrown around during the discussion). In all honesty, both these tags and several more work in describing the band’s style; the band has helped influenced bands in countless styles of extreme metal, including both tech death and BDM as well as deathcore and several subgenres of grindcore. Destroy the Opposition in particular embodies exactly how the band accomplished this, being the trio’s unparalleled approach to maximalist death metal that simultaneously emphasizes memorable, fleshed out songwriting.
Seriously, there may not be a better death metal album opener than “Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses”; the tracks initial guitar line straddles somewhere between a slam and breakdown while staying grounded as a solid, crushing riff. It’s only uphill from there as the band aptly crafts towering behemoths of blast beats, flashy noodling and pummeling riff after riff. From blurs of aggression like “Pissing in the Mainstream” to thundering, multi-faceted diatribes like “Justifiable Homicide,” DF’s penchant for balancing mosh fodder with carefully composed death metal is singular among their peers. And of course, it’s impossible to avoid the influence John Gallagher’s vocals have had on BDM specifically. His possessed toad gutturals brings already exceptional music to further heavy lows and cements the band as a lingering legend in the genre.
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Devourment – Butcher the Weak (2006)
Back when I was a freshman in high school, I thought deathcore was the heaviest genre of music out there. My rule of thumb was simple: if it didn’t have breakdowns, then it had no business being on my iPod. As I came in from the bus one morning with a Carnifex shirt from Hot Topic, my good friend in a Suffocation long-sleeve handed me one of his headphones and said “listen to this shit instead.” We essentially went through a death metal history lesson, including several of the bands on this list. But none of them hit my 14-year-old ears quite as hard as slam-progenitors Devourment and their excellent sophomore album Butcher the Weak.
That first listen was revelatory—in just the first moments after the audio sample in the title track, I was assaulted by bog-heavy guitar riffs, gravity blasts and the most guttural growls I’d ever heard. But while overwhelming auditory assaults my be the main component in Devourment’s arsenal, the band also demonstrates a knack for infusing just enough originality to make each track feel like it’s beating you senseless with a different weapon. Yet, my favorite part of the band’s music is still their slams. Essentially a cross between a breakdown and a excessively heavy riff, each slam drew me further and further away from my affinity for breakdowns.
Though I wasn’t aware Devourment were such a pinnacle band in the development of slam, they helped serve as a catalyst for my full-blown obsession with death metal. And though newer bands like Dysentery and Ingested began to take over my regular rotation, I always came back to Devourment when I needed a good old fashioned unadulterated pummeling.
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Abominable Putridity – The Anomalies of Artificial Origin (2012)
Many refer to Abominable Putridity as the origin band of slam brutal death metal, however, the trend has been around long before they formed. Slam death metal arose from the popularity of deathcore which opened up death metal bands to the heavy use of breakdowns as well as from a handful of brutal death metal bands that stuck to a groovier approach than their peers. By the mid 2000s, it seemed brutal death metal had nowhere to go. Vocalists had found the lowest growls, drummers had found the fastest techniques, guitarist had found the best riffs, and bassists had perfected their slapping. The only way forward was to find something new. Whether the first slam band was Devourment, Infected Malignity, or any of the practically identical slam acts of the mid 2000s, The Anomalies of Artificial Origin, remains the genre’s golden standard.
Slam is all about taking the over-the-top obscenity of brutal death metal and turning it into something fun and danceable. The production on Anomalies keeps the drums airtight and the guitars and bass rich and chunky, not unlike a horrible dubstep track. The vocals are classically unintelligible and deeper than depths of Hell. There is no other reading to this album other than a lovable, expertly crafted collection of riffs to bob your head to. It’s the funk of metal (besides funk metal). If you’re a newbie to slam, check this album out and try not to think too hard about it.
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-Joe the Bear
Disfiguring the Goddess – Sleeper (2012)
Look, I know this isn’t a starter kit for brutal death metal, but my entry into the deep end of the death metal pool is still one of my all-time favorites. Disfiguring the Goddess — the one-man brutal death metal project from electronic dance music producer Cameron “Big Chocolate” Argon — kicks up the brutal death style with mechanical production complete with programmed drums, chopped-up guitar riffs, and synthesizers. You’d be hard pressed to find a more accessible entry-point; the project’s second full-length album Sleeper perfects what Argon was going for on the Circle of Nine debut with tightened production and songwriting. Brutal death metal has no business being as catchy as Sleeper is; the grooving riffs and melodic synth leads pop out under blastbeats and gutterals with great frequency. Argon has honestly perfected songwriting in the context of extreme metal, and the frequency in which hooks appear, combined with a relatively short runtime of 24 minutes, makes this a tightly focused record that offers a forward-thinking take on brutal death metal.
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– Jimmy Rowe
Defeated Sanity – Passages Into Deformity (2013)
The best way to understand Defeated Sanity‘s ouvre and its evolution over the course of their career is that they’ve constantly engaged themselves in the process of becoming the most interesting brutal death metal band out there. That’s not to say the most brutal – there are plenty of other bands who objectively go way harder than Defeated Sanity does, or ever has – nor is it to say that they’re the most experimental, or the most technical, or whatever. They’re rarely the most anything besides the most interesting, but god damn do they nail that entirely. Consistently they have endeavored to bring together the high-minded progressive and jazzy tendencies of groups like Cynic and Atheist with the unstoppable ear-fucking caveman insanity that is brutal death metal.
Passages Into Deformity is the apotheosis of these tendencies, an entirely unrivaled whirlwind of brutality that represents the absolute best of both sounds the band trades in. Rather than separate their music into sections that highlight each influence, as most bands pulling from two disparate sources would, Defeated Sanity melts down both genres into their most fundamental, primal forms and then fuses both into an unmistakably original edifice that somehow manages to pull off being impossibly mercurial and slippery while also maintaining sledgehammer-to-the-noggin levels of heaviness. There’s little in the way of the typical heave-ho that characterizes acts built on as dichotomous a structure as these guys are; instead everything on Passages flows so insanely well into whatever follows it that every influence they have feels omnipresent.
Of course, such prowess on a songwriting level would mean nothing if it wasn’t backed up by a band ready to put their money where their collective mouth is, but every member of Defeated Sanity displays virtuoso-level skill on their respective instrument. Drummer Lille Gruber takes the cake, though: the man has seemingly limitless energy devoted to his percussion and draws from an exceedingly deep well of creativity in his fills.
Passages may not be the most technical brutal death metal album, or the most original, or the heaviest, but it rightly earns a place on any pantheon of genre bests because of how well it fuses an uncharacteristic amount of elegance and intelligence into a genre that’s rightly known for anything but (before that’s inevitably taken the wrong way, let it be known that unintelligent does not equal bad at all). There’s a deftness and poise to it that’s completely lacking in most, if not all, of the group’s peers that makes this album one of the most compelling, fascinating, and downright kickass entries into the entire genre of brutal death metal, and for that, it more than deserves a place on this list.
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Disentomb – Misery (2014)
Australia’s Disentomb have two full-length albums to their name. Their debut, 2010’s Sunken Chambers of Nephilim was good enough to place them in “band to watch” territory with its murky production values, synapse-breaking chord progressions, and the unadulterated pig squeal vocals of the best brutal death. A great start, but not necessarily wholly unique or original. Four years later, the band dropped Misery, and changed the trajectory of brutal death metal and their already promising career.
May there be no bones about it: Misery is one of the best brutal death metal albums to be released in the last few years. The whole package is fantastic. From Nick Keller’s absolutely incredible cover art to the beefier, snappier production values, everything about this record screams brutal death metal ascendance. Beyond simple visual and production aesthetic, though, lies the essential ingredient of Disentomb’s unique and punishing style: instrumental pyrotechnics. Take the technical acumen of Gorguts and mix it with a healthy helping of Defeated Sanity’s unrelenting brutality and the vocal mania of late-period Cryptopsy and you have a solid general idea as to the audio assault you will receive throughout Misery.
But Disentomb are more than a mere amalgamation of parts from better bands.The stellar and somewhat unconventional production allows each instrument space to work in the mix, with each member’s presence being heard and felt clearly and powerfully, while not sacrificing an ounce of the album’s overall intensity. The album’s winding, technical guitar passages incorporate aspects of doom and old school death metal seamlessly with a more brutal aesthetic, while the rhythm section is one of the most unique and varied portions of the album, venturing far outside standard blast beats and into more textured territory. At no moment does the record feel stale or boring, but is instead a straight up righteous banger from the opening track through its closing barrage. Rarely does a brutal death metal record deliver such a fresh take on a sometimes highly formulaic subgenre. Essential listening.
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Wormed – Krighsu (2016)
How do you elevate a genre that’s virtually unrivalled in its punishing brutality and heaviness to greater heights still, even years after its inception? There’s several possible answers to that, but Spain’s Wormed definitely hit the mark with their own solution in quite literally taking the genre into space — first on 2013’s instant-classic Exodromos, before perfecting the formula with Krighsu. Wormed’s eschewing of a ‘traditional’ thematic backing in favour of a fully fleshed out multi-album science fiction concept already puts them ahead of the pack as far as that side of the equation is concerned; but their mechanically precise assault on the senses is delivered with the same calculated efficiency as that of the galaxy-consuming nanomachine swarms the album’s titular protagonist finds himself fighting against.
Every element of the album is perfectly executed, with the crystal-clear production featuring a sheen befitting the subject matter and highlighting every angle of the cacophony the four-piece conjure. The riffing is as dissonant as they come, littered with almost alien-sounding chord choices and riff structures, all the while being pummeled along by an onslaught of razor-sharp blast beats that may well annihilate entire planets in their wake. The sheer adrenaline rush Krighsu offers is virtually unparalleled; approaching a point where it can completely make a listener’s hairs stand on end, often just leaving them stunned and mouthing the words “Did that just really happen?” — right before being pulled into the next black hole of a maniacal riff section, of course, without a moment’s respite. Breathing room? No one breathes in space, and Wormed are here to make sure of it.
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– Ahmed Hasan