I noticed, looking back over my top metal bands list, that there was a notable absence of real traditional death metal on there. That's not really fair to those bands, since I quite enjoy a great deal of "real" death metal, and I just wasn't in that particular frame of mind when I wrote the list. So today I decided to remedy that and put together a top 10 list of my favorite old school death metal bands.
First, though, I think I should mention the fact that I typically dislike the term "old school". I feel that it gets thrown around arbitrarily and inaccurately far too often, so I usually try to avoid it entirely. However, when discussing death metal, it feels almost essential, since calling it "traditional" sounds weirdly stiff and formal to me, and if I just say "death metal" without a qualifier, I open the discussion to everything from At The Gates to Job For a Cowboy, and those just aren't the type of music I'm talking about. So, for '80s and early '90s straightforward death metal, I'll go ahead and use the term "old school". Also keep in mind that, as with my other list, this is pretty flexible depending on my mood and the particular day. And there are a few major omissions but there shouldn't be many (if any) names on here that any seasoned fan of death metal would be unfamiliar with.
Anyway, on the the list!
My Top 10 Favorite "Old School" Death Metal Bands:
Keeping in mind that this is a rough and thoroughly flexible list, I decided to start things off with a bit of a curveball. One of the few good British death metal groups I've ever heard, if you're unfamiliar with them but would like to give them a listen I'd personally recommend The Grand Leveller as a good place to start.
I just wouldn't feel right about making this list and not including Death. If you're bothering to read this post at all then I have to assume you have at least a passing familiarity with death metal. If you do, I really don't need to tell you about Death.
The odd thing about Immolation is that I actually like their newest album better than any of their old material. The good thing about that, though, is that I know there is at least one old death metal band still releasing material that I'm willing to seek out and buy.
The onslaught of brutal death metal that Suffocation left in their wake is rather annoying at times, but they do deserve a certain amount of credit for being a band that did something different in the genre. Besides, they put on one hell of a live show.
This is a weird one for me, because the only thing I'm not crazy about with the is the vocals, which tend to be the most talked-about element of their sound. Tardy's vocals are certainly unique, but it's the guitar that grooves along and draws me in so much. Plus, Frozen in Time was the first "real" death metal album I ever bought, so Obituary opened a lot of musical doors for me.
The central pillar of Swedish death metal had to make an appearance somewhere on this list. Fifth feels about right. If you haven't heard Left Hand Path, you probably don't like death metal.
4. Bolt Thrower
For some reason, Bolt Thrower material is almost totally absent from my musical collection. I guess it's just that I play songs off YouTube so often that I don't always feel the need to go get the actual albums themselves. In any case, Bolt Thrower, the pinnacle of British death metal, was one of the first old school death metal bands I really got into when I hit that stage of my metal development.
Is it creepy that I find their songs extremely soothing? If so, I guess I'm just a creepy guy. For whatever reason, when I pop Mental Funeral on I immediately feel mellowed out and relaxed.
They may not be quite as well known as their Swedish compatriots Entombed, though they are still a very familiar name to any real death metal fan. Their deeper, more sluggish approach to the typical Swedish death metal sound is extremely appealing to me. If you aren't familiar with them, Into The Grave is their one truly essential album.
Granted, I don't own most of their material. But when I think of "real" death metal at its best, Onward to Golgotha so totally dominates the thoughts that come to mind, I would probably be willing to put Incantation at the top of this list even if they had never released a single other song.
p.s. I am distinctly aware that I just listed my ten favorite old school death metal bands and I didn't include Morbid Angel. I realize what a crime this probably constitutes within the death metal world, so I just felt it necessary to note that I do like Morbid Angel, but on this particular day they fell just short of the top ten for my personal taste. Dismember and Malevolent Creation were also bands that I originally thought would make this list, but somehow when cutting time came there just wasn't enough room.