With the new wave of US death metal putting the spotlight back on underground DM, and acts like Undeath gaining real traction, there’s a palpable sense of excitement around the genre at present.
But as our Best Death Metal Albums of 2023 list shows, revitalised veteran acts are still turning heads, decades after they started to shape the music as we know it.
Check out the records that made our death metal top 10…
10. Burial Hordes – Ruins (Transcending Obscurity Records)
Dead Congregation might be Greek death metal’s standard bearers, but Burial Hordes have always been lurking in the background.
And the band – who feature Congregation guitarist T.K. in their ranks – now seem eager to stamp their authority on the underground too, after a five-year gap between albums.
Wrapped in a cloak of haunting atmospherics, Ruins was a grade A blackened DM masterpiece, an opus which saw Burial Hordes mark their return in some style.
Standout track Insubstantial was anything but…
9. Ascended Dead – Evenfall Of The Apocalypse (20 Buck Spin)
Portland’s Ascended Dead plunged straight into a twisting, hellish vortex on their second opus.
Maybe the recording sessions were overseen by some kind of chasm-dwelling abomination, summoned by mutated cultists, rather than by a guy called Charlie Koryn.
However this raw, soul-corroding onslaught was born, we’re glad it manifested into this unrelenting and gloriously terrifying record.
From the corrupting riffs of Ungodly Death to the primal, flailing Visceral Strike, Evenfall Of The Apocalypse crackled with infernal power.
8. Autopsy – Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts (Peaceville Records)
Are Greg Wilkinson and Chris Reifert now the Butler/Ward of death metal? It certainly sounded like it as Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts brought low slung grooves and crypt lurking rhythms to 2023.
Brainoil bassist Wilkinson – who also collaborates with Reifert in Static Abyss – has been an intriguing addition to the veteran act’s ranks: his talents were evident on last year’s Morbidity Triumphant and he’s helped Autopsy up their game again with this record.
Punky snarlers like Toxic Death Fuk mixed with doom-drenched numbers such as Bones To The Wolves, and the stench just got stronger and stronger…
7. Cruciamentum – Obsidian Refractions (Profound Lore)
Like an eruption from the bowels of the underworld, Cruciamentum reignited in 2023… and sprayed sulphuric riffs over anyone in their path.
The UK/US act’s first full-length in eight years retained the infernal dynamics and ash cloud density of their cult debut, Charnel Passages.
That was no easy feat, given that only guitarist/keyboardist D.L. remained from the Charnel sessions.
But the demonic DNA of Cruciamentum’s early work radiated from Obsidian Refractions.
And it made for one hell of a death metal album.
Check out the full review here.
6. Cryptopsy – As Gomorrah Burns (Nuclear Blast)
Opening up about the birth of As Gomorrah Burns, Cryptopsy vocalist Matt McGachy referenced some ‘brutally difficult’ situations.
But despite a tortured writing process, the Canadians’ eighth full-length was a tour de force of taught, technical death metal – and a world away from the deathcore misstep of 2008’s The Unspoken King.
In reality, Cryptopsy’s re-ignition had started on 2012’s self-titled effort. But 11 years later, they still had a point to prove – especially after a decade with only two EPs to show for it.
And As Gomorrah Burns proved that point with a torrent of extraterrestrial musicianship, all driven by drummer/fusion reactor Flo Mournier.
Check out the full review here.
5. Memoriam – Rise To Power (Reaper Entertainment)
Rise To Power saw Karl Willetts and co. unleash Total War, as they returned for another battle.
Certainly, Memoriam’s Benediction/Bolt Thrower heritage underscored songs like The Conflict Is Within.
However, the quartet have been defining and refining their own style over the last eight years – and never seem to run out of ideas (or great riffs).
Annihilation’s Dawn soared high over a death metal artillery barrage, I Am The Enemy echoed the Peaceville three miserablism encountered on 2021’s To The End, and All Is Lost carried the emotional weight that’s now typical of Memoriam’s output.
Five albums in, this band are still rising.
4. Cannibal Corpse – Chaos Horrific (Metal Blade)
But the16th ‘Corpse album ran it close.
The US death metal legends were on rabid form as Overlords of Violence hacked and slashed its way into life and Pitchfork Impalement dialled up the devastation.
But Corpsegrinder’s crew never let bloodlust obscure their supreme musicianship. Erik Rutan dealt out those twisted, scorching leads, Rob Barrett conjured a churning riff barrage, and the inhuman engine room of Paul Mazurkiewicz and Alex Webster kept Chaos Horrific on its destructive course.
Cannibal Corpse have barely out a foot wrong since 2006’s Kill. And this was another fine addition to their illustrious canon.
3. Fuming Mouth – Last Day Of Sun (Nuclear Blast)
Fuming Mouth’s Mark Whelan was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, just three weeks before the quartet were due to start recording this album.
And during his gruelling battle with the disease, Whelan re-shaped Last Day Of Sun.
“I was facing certain death,” he said. “But as I kept writing the album its theme became clear. You could die tomorrow. Seize the day.”
And seize the day he most certainly did.
Fuming Mouth blended savagery and subtlety to craft an opus of immense emotional power.
Yes, the Massachusetts outfit drew on the Swedish DM and hardcore influences that served them well on The Grand Descent.
But the songwriting on Last Day Of Sun was several steps above that of its predecessor.
And the record blazed with defiance.
2. Obituary – Dying Of Everything (Relapse Records)
That infectious, primordial groove, the primal fretwork, those noxious guitar tones… yep, Dying Of Everything was 100% proof Obituary, distilled in the Florida swamps and capable of rotting every organ in your body.
The veterans’ 11th was several notches above both 2014’s Inked In Blood and 2017’s self-titled effort. You see, there was just something about the way War, Torn Apart and swamp stomper The Wrong Time stuck to the skin… and burned right through.
Nearly 24 years on from their debut, Obituary remain viscous, virulent and absolutely vital.
Check out the full review here.
1. Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium (Season of Mist)
“Ontological Mysterium is partly our love letter to the bombastic spirit of heavy metal from the ’80s and early ’90s,” said Horrendous’ guitarist/vocalist Matt Knox.
And there was definitely something grandiose about the quartet’s fifth opus.
This was the work of a band unrestrained, an act pushing at the boundaries of progressive death metal, yet still rooted in classic DM.
Death, Pestilence and Cynic came to mind as Ontological Mysterium explored a multiverse of sonic pathways, and veered from the contorted mutations of Neon Leviathan to the gene-splicing groove of the title track.
But despite nods to those pioneers, Horrendous have defined their own imaginative, technicolour style over 15 years – and established themselves as one of modern death metal’s most intriguing and ambitous bands.
Enjoyed our rundown of the Best Death Metal Albums of 2023? Check out Rushonrock’s Best Thrash Metal Albums of 2023 here.
Autopsy picture (middle) by Nancy Reifert.