Possessor‘s 2019 record Gravelands is a fun ‘n’ fuzzy ride through all the best parts of the stoner rock genre. There’s shades of Fu Manchu and High On Fire, but with an old-school rock ‘n’ roll spirit also rearing its head throughout. For a record that feels familiar in its inspirations, it’s certainly a dynamic affair. But for all its strengths, one thing it doesn’t immediately betray is the band’s – particularly guitarist/vocalist Graham ‘Grover Kill’ Bywater’s – love of death metal.
Since we’re all currently shacked up inside hiding from COVID-19 (and if you’re not, please stay safe), now is as good a time as any to lose yourself in the suitably depraved realm of gore, blastbeats and demonic growls, so read on to find out Bywater’s top 13 death metal albums… at the time of writing, that is.
Autopsy – Severed Survival (1989)
No list of death metal would be complete without an album from the unholy masters of doom and gloom. Severed Survival came fresh on the heels of Chris Reifert’s brief stint in Death and created a superbly heavy hybrid of death metal and crusty doom unlike anything that had preceded it. This album is berserk, rotten and uncompromising in its efforts to create the sound of death and decay. Boasting an unusually bass-heavy production and a slurry of crunchy, depressing riffs recorded on super cheap gear, Severed Survival has always sounded totally out of control. An angry and excited classic led by the frenzied attack and grim black humour of Reifert on drums and vocals. Whilst this isn’t actually my favourite of theirs (that would be the far more recent Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves) its power to repulse has not diminished. Plus it fucking rocks. Interestingly it’s also one of those rare examples of a having an alternative cover design that I much prefer to the original.
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb Of The Mutilated (1992)
Buffalo’s finest hit pay dirt with their third, and in my eyes, best album. TOTM is a bulldozer of sick riffs, breakdowns and guttural nastiness that producer Scott Burns captured perfectly on this record, more than making up for the slightly flat guitar tone of its predecessor, Butchered At Birth. Opening with what is arguably their most loved song, ‘Hammer Smashed Face’, and surging relentlessly through such classics as the vicious ‘Post Mortal Ejaculation’ and the groove-laden ‘The Cryptic Stench’, TOTM even earned the band a cameo in Jim Carrey’s chuckle fest Ace Ventura, as well as sporting an album cover that is just as offensive in its censored form as it is in its necromantic original.
Gojira – From Mars To Sirius (2005)
A real game changer for both the band and the genre in general, From Mars To Sirius quite frankly blew my head off on its initial release and remains the only Gojira album I truly love. The way the band mixed such immense melodies and tunes alongside the juggernaut riffs of Joe Duplantier and stampeding drums of brother Mario Duplantier make this a true classic that has deservedly sent the band skyrocketing into heavy metal infamy. Standout tracks are hard to pinpoint as it is truly such an impressive concept and body of work, but ‘Heaviest Matter In The Universe’, ‘From The Sky’ and ‘Backbone’ need to be heard to be, quite frankly, believed.
Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)
While Possessed could never be described as simply death metal, the fact that they used the moniker as a song title on this, their life-affirming debut album, makes it safe to say they are at least partly responsible for giving the genre its name. (Much the same way Venom did with their less-than-serious second outing, Black Metal, a title taken way more seriously in Norway then its “satanic Spinal Tap-isms” really called for). Seven Churches is a huge influence on Possessor, in case our name didn’t give that away. The sheer ferocity and chaotic nature of this album was unparalleled by any of their peers and is about as evil as an album can get. Recorded during Spring Break when both bassist/vocalist Jeff Becerra and guitarist Larry LaLonde (later of Primus fame) were both at high school, Seven Churches took the metal world by storm. Effortlessly tying together several extreme genres, it remains to this day a unique and beastly achievement that in my opinion the band never quite achieved again. If you don’t own this album you need to have a long, hard think.
Exhumed – Horror (2019)
A more recent one and a tough choice as these guys have a killer back catalogue but last year’s Horror absolutely fucking rules! There’s something about this album which just needs to be hailed. California’s gore masters absolutely destroy on this record, thanks in no small part to axeman Sebastian Phillips, who displays some love for South Of Heaven-era Slayer. The riffs are humongous yet simple, the barnstorming d-beat drums ferocious and the slasher film-inspired artwork and overall vibe make this record so unique and enjoyable I keep finding myself going back to it again and again. It’s less than half an hour long too so really satisfies! Highly recommended. These guys are currently on a huge US tour with Gatecreeper which needs to hit the UK, or else I’ll saw my arm off and post it to the band to express my disappointment.
Severe Torture – Sworn Vengeance (2007)
Here’s a band I’ve always had a huge soft spot for – and again, choosing an album was a tough choice but Sworn Vengeance it is! These guys hail from the Netherlands and boast a truly unique take on the genre with hugely catchy and head-nodding groovy riffs unlike anyone else I can think of. They also, until recently, had the phenomenal Seth Van De Loo on drums, who I’m sure isn’t human. I first heard these guys on a Terrorizer magazine sampler with the track ‘Endless Stream Of Cadavers’ from their Fall Of The Despised album and was immediately hooked. Go check out ‘Fight Something’ from Sworn Vengeance right now and give these overlooked legends some love. The album is short, sharp, fun and totally to the point. As it should be.
Bolt Thrower – Mercenary (1998)
Ah, good old Bolt Thrower, Coventry’s finest export. Mercenary has always been my go-to album as it was the first of theirs I heard. The riffs are exceptional and I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for stealing parts of both ‘Laid To Rest’ and ‘Return Trom Chaos’, so apologies, guys. While the production of a lot of albums of this era may feel a little dated, the music within does not. Mercenary doesn’t seem to be as highly regarded as perhaps it should be which I find strange as the bludgeoning, down-tuned guitar tones of Gavin Ward and Baz Thomson are as strong as ever, pushing the rhythm section of Jo Bench and Alex Thomas forward into battle once more. Diversity may never be a word you would use to describe Bolt Thrower but the stampeding nature of these tracks and the almost Iron Maiden/Metallica feel of ‘Powder Burns’ make this essential listening if you need a soundtrack to your late-night game of Warhammer.
Impetigo – Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1990)
Yikes! Here it is. One of the ugliest and most unhinged records ever released. Light years ahead of its time, Impetigo may just have been the first ever grindcore band, and Ultimo Mondo Cannibale certainly marked the apex (or nadir) of the grubby genre. Inspired by the works of disreputable Italian directors Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci, Impetigo’s first – and definitely best – album explodes with budget production values, ridiculously silly vocals and a whirlwind of overlong horror movie samples from the likes of Isla, She Wolf Of The SS and City Of The Living Dead, leaving the listener slightly crazed and repulsed. Vocalist and bassist Steve Dobbins was responsible for the various repulsive covers the album seems to have been given over the years and would appear to be the mastermind behind the band’s slightly obscure and sporadic career. I’ve recommended this album to lots of people who have ignored me. Which is probably for the best. More for me.
Death – Human (1991)
I’d never call myself the biggest Death fan, but this album really struck a chord with me. Human marked the beginning of various stylistic changes for the late, great Chuck Schuldiner, who chose to ditch the gore and horror of previous outings and focus on incredibly technical and complex guitar patterns that would go on to influence the likes of Carcass and a number of deathheads. It’s also a really beautiful, introspective album that lingers in the mind long after listen. The incredibly affecting album opener ‘Flattening Of Emotions’ is just the beginning of the journey, whilst ‘Secret Face’ and ‘Lack Of Comprehension’ paved the way for the band’s following three albums as they became an even more melodic and progressive commodity. Human is also the first to bring in bassist Steve DiGiorgio of Testament, Autopsy and Sadus fame as well as being the only Death album to feature Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert of Cynic on guitar and drums. Not much else can be said about this album. It’s a landmark in the death metal genre and a daring, brave step forward for Chuck. R.I.P.
Anata – The Conductor’s Departure (2006)
Sweden’s Anata are an absolutely killer band that sadly seem to be on a permanent, but unannounced, hiatus. The Conductor’s Departure is their final work at the time of writing and it remains one of my favourite death metal albums of all time. Tech-death isn’t my go-to subgenre as a lot of it sounds unnatural, over-produced and painfully mastered to my ears. Anata, however, are something truly special and took the genre in a refreshingly unique direction with phenomenal, jaw-dropping musicianship, volcanic riffs, exquisitely melodic dual guitar harmonies and an ear for variation that made sure they were never dull or repetitive. Every track is dark yet beautiful and hypnotic. Take the epic album opener ‘Downward Spiral Into Madness’ or the soaring, almost otherworldly ‘Complete Demise’, for example. Sheer brilliance. Then sit back and revel in the incredibly uplifting ‘I Would Dream Of Blood’ or the playful stomp of ‘Better Grieved Than Fooled’. Not many albums deserve full marks but this album is flawless. Absolutely majestic. Get on it.
Dismember – Like An Ever Flowing Stream (1991)
No death metal list would be complete without at least one of the classic first wave of Swedish bands. As hugely influential as Entombed remain I chose Dismember’s first album as it features the almighty ‘Override Of The Overture’ which has to be one of the greatest opening songs to any album ever! As far as debut albums go, this can do little wrong. It is at times indebted to thrash as much as its Swedish peers and it certainly set the bar high for the band. The classic signature HM-2 buzzsaw guitar attack of David Blomqvist and Robert Sennebäck is in full force yet interestingly, Entombed drummer and scene head Nicke Andersson played practically all of the guitar solos on the record. Such was the incestuous and prolific nature of the Swedish death metal scene of the early nineties, which also spawned the fantastic Grave, Sorcery and Merciless (who all should have made this list).
Hyperdontia – Nexus Of Teeth (2018)
Another recent release but one so damn good it simply had to be included. This is a crushing, straight-for-the-throat death metal album that adds a totally refreshing take on the old school sound of Morbid Angel whilst creating something so savage and overwhelming it’s totally addictive and unforgettable. Hailing from all over the place (Denmark, Istanbul and Turkey) Hyperdontia include members of other putrid bands such as Undergang, Dead Congregation and Decaying Purity. They also have one of the most intense and mouth-watering guitar tones I’ve heard in years. Not much else to say on this really as it’s just so raw and powerful it needs to be heard to be believed.
Cryptopsy – None So Vile (1996)
No true metalhead will be unfamiliar with this one. None So Vile is simply one of nastiest and most brutal records of all time and one that could easily be described as the pinnacle of extreme music. There is so much to get excited about here. The utterly unhinged drum work of Flo Mounier, the genuinely distressing barks of Lord Worm and the clean but extremely claustrophobic production sound make this an absolutely unique experience and certainly unlike anything else in the genre. The riffs and compositions are truly excellent and almost eccentric, but perhaps a little too much for everyone. In 1996 Cryptopsy said “Fuck You” to all the genre’s conventions and basically reinvented the wheel with this truly sick and masterful approach to creating the sound of hell itself. Even the cover art gives me the creeps.
Possessor’s Gravelands is out now on APF Records. Order here.
Intro: George Parr