Death metal has always been one of the most provocative, extreme, and disruptive music genres since it made its way onto the scene in the 80s. It’s evolved constantly, spitting out numerous subgenres with different styles and sounds while remaining true to itself. If you could mix black metal, thrash, and punk music with horror and gore, you’d end up with death metal.
There have been many groups to grace the death metal scene, but they’ve all dabbled with growling vocals, blast beats, distorted guitars, and insane drum sets. Here are the 25 best death metal bands of all time:
Death would become one of the most important groups in heavy metal music while simultaneously pioneering the death metal genre—they’ve got a fitting name, huh? Their debut album Scream Bloody Gore is one of the first ones to be called a death metal album. Throughout their history, they had many lineup changes, with only founding member and guitarist Chuck Schuldiner always remaining with them.
When it comes to death metal, you won’t find a better blueprint than this group’s early work or a band that had a larger influence on making the genre the respected metal style we see it as today.
2. Cannibal Corpse
From the pioneers of the genre to the best-selling death metal band of all time, Cannibal Corpse debuted in 1990 and sold over two million records worldwide. As successful as their 15 studio albums have been for a death metal group, the group might be best known for their horrific album art. It would see them and their music banned from several countries due to being too controversial and reliant on horror films and fiction for inspiration.
Death wasn’t the only one credited with helping pioneer the death metal genre. Possessed and Necrophagia—we’ll get to them later—were also there. They were among the first bands to expand thrash metal into death metal, with their debut album Seven Churches labeled by many as the first true death metal album. They would only release one more album, Beyond The Gates, in 1986 before breaking up, though they did come back together to release Revelations Of Oblivion in 2019.
Like Death and Possessed, Obituary was another death metal band formed in Florida during the 80s, but they brought the music to a wider audience than their peers. Active since their inception—minus a split from 1997 to 2003—they have compiled ten studio albums and still tour to this day.
Their brand of death metal relies on groove-based riffs and John Tadry’s distinctive growls, but they carved out their own niche within the genre. Their 1992 album The End Complete is perhaps the best-selling death metal album of all time, netting them a quarter of a million sales worldwide.
5. Morbid Angel
Alongside the first four bands on our list, Morbid Angel is one of the most important ones in the history of death metal. They were among the first to include the guttural vocal sound we associate with death metal, blast beats, and multiple tempo changes. Most of their albums are held up as classics within death metal, with Altars Of Madness hailed as one of, if not, the greatest death metal albums ever.
An interesting fun fact, their albums are released in alphabetical order. With the first two, it was an accident, but after, it’s been a conscious choice. They were one of the first death metal groups to sign with a big label, Warner’s Giant, which opened up the genre to broader audiences and brought death metal into the hands of mainstream audiences for the first time.
6. At The Gates
Pioneers of the Gothenburg style of melodic death metal, the Swedish death metal band At The Gates started their careers with four albums that were massively influential in the Swedish death metal scene. Slaughter Of The Soul in 1995 would become their best work, even though they reunited to release three more albums after 2010. That album would be nominated for a Swedish Grammy, and their 2014 comeback album At War With Reality would win them one in 2015.
Immolation is best known for its dueling guitar riffs, dissonant patterns, and complex drum beats. Everything about their music is technically complex and requires a high level of proficiency, something not found in every death metal band. Their debut album would inspire bands like Suffocation and Cryptopsy, serving as a blueprint for the New York death metal scene as a whole.
Pioneers of death metal in Sweden, Dismember are considered one of the Swedish death metal scenes’ “big four.” Their debut album Like An Ever Flowing Stream was a major milestone in Swedish death metal, even though the song Skin Her Alive got them an obscenity charge in the UK. Like most others in the death metal scene of Scandinavia, they began softening their sound in the mid-90s, incorporating more melodic harmonies, which brought them more success than their later return to a full death metal style.
Suffocation, alongside Immolation, was integral to the New York death metal scene. Their 1991 album Effigy Of The Forgotten was hailed as one of the classic, quintessential death metal albums of its time. Critics claimed it remained a virtuoso work while not sacrificing the brutality death metal is known for. In total, they’ve recorded eight studio albums, all of which utilize growled vocals, complex guitar riffs, and stylistic drumming. Their frequent use of breakdowns is one of the main things that spawned the entire deathcore metal subgenre.
10. Napalm Death
Napalm Death’s style of grindcore incorporated crust punk and death metal to pioneer the genre. If you’re looking for something noisy, look no further and enjoy their distorted guitars, grinding bass, and lyrics that either get growled or screamed. Most of their songs are incredibly short, with them even holding a Guinness World Record for the shortest recorded song ever with You Suffer, clocking in at a total of 1.316 seconds. Their 16 studio albums have made them the seventh-best-selling death metal band in the United States.
Carcass is an extreme metal band based in Liverpool, England, who are responsible for the goregrind scene. Early work by them saw gruesome album covers and morbid lyrics—yes, even compared to other death metal bands—that had them labeled as “hardgore” and “splatter death metal.” Though morbid as hell, a lot of their lyrics are actually in favor of animal rights, with two of the members being staunch vegans.
After Cannibal Corpse, Deicide is the best selling death metal band. While black metal is vehemently anti-religion, most of the death metal scene keeps away from those lyrical themes. Not so with this group. The thing they’re best known for is their lyrics, covering topics like Satanism, anti-Christianity, and blasphemy. With song titles like Death To Jesus, Fuck Your God, and Kill The Christian, it’s not too difficult to see why they ruffled a couple of feathers.
One crazy story saw their stage having a bomb planted under it in Stockholm. It went off, but they kept playing until the police stopped the concert. Both members of the Norwegian black metal scene and animal activists were played, as those groups hated the band—for different reasons, of course.
13. In Flames
Another one of the pioneering bands in Swedish death metal is In Flames. Over time, their sound evolved away from the heavy initial sound they started with toward an alternative metal sound, earning them a wider audience. In total, they’ve sold over two million records worldwide and been nominated for three Grammy Awards. Their most prominent contributions to the scene include helping spearhead melodic death metal alongside At The Gates and becoming a major influence on metalcore.
14. Ad Infinitum
Relatively new to the scene is Ad Infinitum, a Swiss and German symphonic metal band that dips its toes in all things metal. Vocalist Melissa Bonny started the project as a solo act before becoming a full band and releasing their debut album, Chapter I: Monarchy, in 2020. Songs like I Am The Storm and See You In Hell are what put them on the map, and they’re definitely one death metal band to keep an eye on going forward.
The French death metal band Benighted has been active for over 20 years, consistently pushing out quality music. They’re one of the top acts in the modern deathgrind scene, with nine studio albums to their name. They’ve toured across Europe, sharing stages with bands like Morbid Angel and Deicide.
Originally founded as Gozilla, Gojira might have changed their name in 2001, but they’ve never stopped being known for progressive death metal and their technical excellence. They might have put down the death metal style a bit, but it brought them widespread mainstream success, topping the Hard Rock charts and earning Grammy nominations. The band holds the record for the loudest concert ever held at the Stade de France. Most of their lyrics focus on spiritual, philosophical, and environmentally conscious themes, making them stand out from a lot of their peers who focus on… let’s just say, heavier stuff.
Behemoth started out as an extreme metal band with roots in black metal before they gradually shifted into more of a death metal sound. Their early work included the heathenistic content of death metal, with Nergal facing criminal charges at one point for tearing up a Bible. Moving into death metal saw stylistic changes in lyrics, but always kept their signature sound, breaking into the scene with their 1999 album, Satanica.
Though they were on the West Coast, Autopsy is still considered one of the pioneering bands in the death metal genre. They were one of the main bands to pioneer death-doom, a style that combines slower tempos with extremely depressive or pessimistic lyrics. Despite a long hiatus because they disbanded, they returned in 2009, releasing new music as recently as 2020.
19. Misery Index
Misery Index plays death metal unlike almost any other band, incorporating strong elements of hardcore punk and grindcore. Their lyrics mainly focus on the unfair power structure of the modern world, especially when it comes to economic problems. Their entire band name is derived from an economic indicator, so that checks out. They run their own record label and are prolific performers, having played over 1,000 concerts between 2002 and 2013.
20. Cattle Decapitation
Hey, I saw the name, did a bit of research, and knew I had to include Cattle Decapitation in the list. This deathgrind band plays some absolute bangers, but they’re more known for their controversies and actions outside of music than their albums. They started with an entirely vegan lineup, though only two current members are vegetarians. The lyrics of their songs protest animal mistreatment and try to put humans in the situations people put animals in, which led to touching on things like human genocide.
Their artwork is just as controversial, with one album featuring a cow, uh, popping human remains out. Regardless, you probably aren’t squeamish about those things if you’re reading this and the band absolutely rocks.
Vader formed in 1983 but didn’t release their debut album until 1992, Ultimate Incantation. They ran through nearly every metal genre you can think of before settling in as one of Poland’s premier death metal bands. They’re largely considered a pioneer of the genre despite the late start, and with a name inspired by Darth Vader himself, it’s hard to overlook them. In total, they’ve released an additional 11 studio albums, focused mostly on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, World War II, and horror.
Nile is best known for their lyrics and music inspired by Egyptology. Their darker influences come from H.P. Lovecraft and some of the bands that came before them. A combination of traditional metal and technical metal is the best way to characterize their sound, but with nine studio albums and various other works, whatever they’re doing is still popular and making waves.
23. Thy Art Is Murder
Perhaps the most popular death metal act in Australia right now, Thy Art Is Murder has consistently reached the top five on iTunes metal charts since its inception in 2006. Of their five studio albums, Holy War and Dear Desolation both made it onto the Billboard 200 charts, while Hate made them the first extreme metal band to reach the Top 40 on the ARIA charts.
24. The Black Dahlia Murder
Formed in 2001, The Black Dahlia Murder is an incredible melodic death metal band. They’re one of the most popular American extreme metal bands, with eight of their nine studio albums appearing on the US Billboard 200. Though they’re one of the absolute best modern death metal bands, they sometimes get criticized for not looking metal enough, mostly because they also have a lot of punk influences.
They say to save the best for last, but this time we saved a classic for last. Alongside Possessed and Death, Necrophagia is one of the very first death metal groups to create the genre. Their Season Of The Dead album in 1987 was one of the first of its kind, inspiring much of the work that came from later death metal bands and remaining to this day an absolute banger. Their six studio albums are fairly spaced out, mostly due to constant lineup shifts, with them releasing their final album in 2014.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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