Melodic death metal is a vast metal subgenre. In this article I will try to offer great bands from the many different styles; everything from old school gateway bands to unknown treasures and melodic death/doom metal bands. Have you heard all 50? Am I missing out on some great melodeath band? Please comment!
I will divide the article into five main categories:
- Old school melodic death metal essentials
- The Finnish style pack
- Unknown melodic death metal gems
- Melodic death/doom metal
- The rest
About the author
I’m Stefan Nordström, an aspiring musician and content creator. This is one of the ways I promote Soliloquium, my melodic death/doom metal band. If you’re searching for new music in the style, it would be awesome if you listened to my stuff on:
My melodic death metal playlist
This my my melodic death metal playlist, a good option if you don’t want to read the massive amount of incoming text.
Old school melodic death metal essentials
The first bunch of melodeath bands are the oldschool ones; bands that highly influenced the genre or just put out great albums early on. Some of these are gateway bands that I don’t listen to myself anymore. Others are still part of my listening routine 15 years later.
Recommended album: Versus the World (2002)
I’ve never been that into Amon Amarth, but they’re simple too famous and too much of a gateway band to ignore in an article about this genre. I used to listen to them quite a lot around “Versus the World”, which is the album I still consider the best.
Recommended album: Burning Bridges (1999)
Before Arch Enemy turned into a plastic commercial metal machinery, they were one of the better bands to come out of the Gothenburg sound. “Burning Bridges” featuring slick guitar work and Johan Liiva’s unpolished vocal hooks is recommended.
At the Gates
Recommended album: Terminal Spirit Disease (1994)
I’m not the biggest At the Gates fan, but their influence on the genre is undeniable. “Slaughter of the Soul” set a standard for melodic death metal riffing and also influenced the coming wave of American bands.
Origin: United Kingdom
Recommended album: Heartwork (1993)
Carcass moved from grindcore to melodeath, culminating in the classic 1993 “Heartwork” album. It’s a very infectious album filled with catchy riffs and memorable hooks.
Children of Bodom
Recommended album: Hatebreeder (1999)
I never listen to Children of Bodom anymore, but “Hatebreeder” and “Follow the Reaper” were essentials in my metal gateway period.
Recommended album: Projector (1999)
Dark Tranquillity was the first metal band I saw live, and I was absolutely obsessed with the 2002 album “Damage Done”. The mix of catchy songwriting and dark atmosphere makes them an essential melodic death metal band. My favorite Dark Tranquillity album is the gothic and synthpop-influenced departure “Projector”.
Recommended album: Expanding Senses (2002)
Darkane has played everything from death/thrash to synthetic high-tech metal, and most of it falls under the melodic death metal tag.
Origin: United States
Recommended album: Symbolic (1995)
The first three Death albums are far from melodic, but their technical and progressive output from the 90’s is essential melodeath. The “Symbolic” album is the best place to start, but all of them are good, really.
Recommended album: Bitterness (1994)
Desultory is a fairly well-known band in old school death metal circles, but they still remain an underrated act, considering the quality of their albums. The music is a depressing take on the early 90’s melodeath sound that was quite original at the time. “Bitterness” and “Into Eternity” are quality albums that should appeal to doom metal fans melodeath fans alike.
The band also reformed and released two quality new era albums, before disbanding once more in 2017. “Counting Our Scars”, one of the new albums, are one par with their classis releases, so it’s sad to see them go.
Edge of Sanity
Recommended album: The Spectral Sorrows (1993)
Early Edge of Sanity morphs catchy melodic death metal with Dan Swanö’s progressive musical mind. It’s death metal enough to be on my 50 best Swedish death metal bands, but melodic enough to be featured here as well.
Recommended album: Mirrorworlds (1997)
A classic underground band when it comes to old school melodeath. Quite similar to early At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity from the same period, both in style and quality. Two acclaimed albums were released in the 90’s.
Recommended album: Abducted (1996)
Hypocrisy started out as an American style death metal band before turning to melodicism. “Abducted” is the classic melodeath Hypocrisy album, featuring the famous hit “Roswell 47”. Check out my cover of the song below.
Recommended album: Whoracle (1997)
The “Whoracle” album was a massive part of my gateway period. I parted with In Flames after the “Reroute to Remain” album but “The Jester Race”, “Whoracle” and “Colony” are good ways to get from heavy metal to death metal.
Recommended album: The Chainheart Machine (1998)
Soilwork became one of my biggest annoyances in the early and mid-2000’s. However, they had some pretty cool riffing before they started out with mandatory clean vocal choruses and nu-metal backdrops.
Recommended album: Deathrace King (2000)
Also a part of my 50 best Swedish death metal bands, The Crown is a violent hybrid of death metal, thrash metal and melodeath. The Trollhättan band has released many quality albums that are as brutal as they are melodic.
Recommended album: The Haunted (1998)
The Haunted’s discography is not the most solid, but the band did a lot to get people into melodic death metal in the early 2000’s. I listened a lot to 2000’s “The Haunted Made Me Do It” and 2003’s “One Kill Wonder” in my gateway period. If I listen to them today, it’s usually 1998 debut “The Haunted”, featuring Peter Dolving’s crazy aggressive vocals and stronger hardcore influence.
The Finnish style pack
Finland has been one of the most active producers of melodic death metal and the bands from there tend to have a distinct sound. I’ve also included a few bands that sound very Finnish in this category.
Recommended album: Tales of the Thousand Lakes (1994)
Amorphis has traversed every music style from death metal to folk and progressive rock, so the band is far from straight melodic death metal. The melody is still a strong enough essence in their sound to place them in this article.
Recommended album: On Lonely Towers (2015)
Barren Earth is somewhere between Amorphis and Opeth, successfully mixing progressive, folk and melodic death metal. The band got even better for me when Faroe vocalist Jon Aldara joined.
Before the Dawn
Recommended album: The Ghost (2006)
One of three Tuomas Saukkonen projects in this article. Before the Dawn is the one that is most conventional melodic death metal.
Recommended album: Of Breath and Bone (2012)
Kind of funny to include an Australian band in the Finnish section, but they just sound so much like one.
Recommended album: Guided by Fire (2007)
Ghost Brigade combines doom metal, sludge metal and melodeath into a gorgeous stew of Finnish melancholy.
Origin: United States
Recommended album: Order Divine (2018)
Hinayana is a doomy melodeath band that sounds so Finnish that it’s hard to believe they’re American.
Recommended album: Across the Dark (2009)
Insomnium combine dark Scandinavian atmosphere with soaring melodic death metal hooks. The majesty of “Down with the Sun” almost makes them into a one song band for me.
Mors Principium Est
Recommended album: Embers of a Dying World (2017)
A very Finnish-sounding band that treads the line between catchy melodeath hooks and gentle emotion.
Recommended album: Grey Heavens (2016)
Omnium Gatherum is a bit too similar to fellow Finns Insomnium for my taste, but it’s still solid music that many melodeath fans enjoy. I’d check out Insomnium and Mors Principium Est first, though.
Recommended album: Poetry of the Ill-Minded (2017)
Symphonic take on Finnish melodeath that’s quite cool. Don’t miss out on associated project Thence and its brilliant album “We are Left With a Song”.
Recommended album: Winterborn (2013)
Toumas Saukkonen disbanded his several metal projects to create Wolfheart.
Unknown melodic death metal gems
There are a few bands that haven’t gotten their deserved level of attention at all. Here are five unknown melodic death metal gems, some are sadly disbanded and forgotten.
Recommended album: My Passion/Your Pain (2003)
I’m not big on the At the Gates school of melodeath, but this album is something special. At first glance “My Passion/Your Pain” is a rather synthetic sounding version of “Slaughter of the Soul”, but there is more to it. The melodies have an emotional impact beyond the typical scope of the melodic death metal genre, a main influence that pops up is Death’s “Symbolic” album.
This Dutch band had a successful period in the underground in the early 2000’s, crowned with a performance at Wacken Open Air. Today they seem largely forgotten. I highly recommend checking this album out, especially if you’re an At the Gates fan looking for more melodic death metal in that style. If you happen to be an At the Gates fan and a Death fan at the same time, get their last album now!
Recommended album: Will and Perception (EP, 2005)
Swedish melodeath band that mixes old school influences like Edge of Sanity with a more modern, proggy style. I think they had most ingredients to become a big band. The songwriting is certainly catchy.
Recommended album: Spectral (2004)
Skyfire is a fantastic band, and I could easily choose “Mind Revolution” as the album to recommend as well. How their energetic blend of melodic death metal, progressive metal and symphonic metal didn’t get them extremely big early on, I will never know. The songwriting is spectacular, and Skyfire has a musical proficiency that’s crystal clear.
Symphonic keyboards are all over the sound without being cheesy, and the machine gun black metal vocal delivery gives them an aggressive edge that stands out.
Origin: United States
Recommended album: God was Created (2002)
Vehemence had some underground attention going for a while in the early and mid-2000’s, but an album like “God Was Created” deserved more. The bizarre concept, and seemless mix of Cannibal Corpse tendencies and melodicism cultimated in truly sick songs like the ballad “She Never Noticed Me”.
Just like Desultory, the band reformed and released some good material, and then decided to disband again. “Forward without Motion” is a very good melodic death metal album, certainly worth checking out.
Recommended album: Nothing is Sacred (2006, EP)
Since my “gems” are fairly well known in most underground metal circles, I want to put forth something truly unknown from the Stockholm scene. Vituperation put out one EP in the mid-2000’s, and it’s a really solid one.
The sole EP “Nothing is Sacred” combines Gothenburg melodicism with thrash metal and old school death metal. The songs, except “Urge and Need (for the Passion to Bleed)” are simple but very catchy and tightly played.
Melodic death/doom metal
The melodic side of death/doom metal has quite a few bands that also fit “regular” melodic death metal fans. The Slumber album is mandatory but there is plenty more where that came from, if you keep reading.
Black Sun Aeon
Recommended album: Darkness Walks Beside Me (2009)
The darkest Saukkonen project falls more into the doom side of things. The debut album “Darkness Walks Beside Me” is my favorite, featuring the more raw side of his sound as well as excellent clean vocals by Mikko Heikkilä from Kaunis Kuolematon.
Origin: United States
Recommended album: Dismantling Devotion (2006)
This U.S. band is always one of my first death/doom metal recommendations. There’s a strong melodic death metal influence in Daylight Dies. A lot of it sounds like a mix of melodeath and newer Katatonia, and the songwriting is splendid.
Recommended album: Rain without End (1997)
October Tide’s early output had a strong sense of old school melodeath, and the new more intense material is just as influenced.
Recommended album: Futile (1999)
If you put Katatonia’s “Brave Murder Day” and Finnish style melodic death hooks in a blender, you get Rapture.
Recommended album: Fallout (2004)
Slumber’s “Fallout” is my favorite doom metal album and it’s based on gorgeous Scandinavian style melodicism. Detractors have even called ita a melodic death metal album in disguise. But why would you retract it? It’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard!
Recommended album: Contemplations (2018)
My death/doom metal band Soliloquium tends to go down well with melodeath fans. I’d really appreciate if you checked out the song “Catharsis” below, a dose of Scandinavian darkness.
Swallow the Sun
Recommended album: The Morning Never Came (2003)
The Finnish death/doom giants have a strong melodic death metal influence, especially on the first album “The Morning Never Came”, which is also my favorite.
Recommended album: Please… Die! (2001)
Carnal Forge’s early albums are as violent as melodic death metal can get. I really like the mix of ultra-fast riffs and Jonas Kjellgren’s deranged vocal delivery.
Recommended album: Back to Times of Splendor (2004)
Germany’s Disillusion plays a progressive and quirky style of melodic death metal that sounds quite unique.
Recommended album: Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)
Dismember is a classic Swedish style death metal band, but most of their music has plenty of melody as well. “Like an Everflowing Stream” is their masterpiece, but 1997’s “Death Metal” is the go to album if you’re looking for melodeath.
Recommended album: Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995)
More black metal than death metal, but there’s enough melodeath in there to warrant a place in this article.
Recommended album: Into the Lungs of Hell (2003)
War-themed Dutch death metallers God Dethroned have created some solid melodic death metal over the years.
Recommended album: Shrouded Divine (2008)
In Mourning enchanted many Katatonia and Opeth fans with the 2008 album “Shrouded Divine”.
Recommended album: Sweet Vengeance (2003)
Nightrage’s “Sweet Vengeance” featuring Tomas Lindberg was quite frequent in my playlist around 2003 and 2004. I have no idea what the other six albums sound like, but the debut is solid.
Recommended album: Deus Deceptor (2002)
Johan Liiva’s early 2000’s project had a few hit songs, especially “A Halo Askew”. I haven’t kept tabs on Noexist at all after the first release.
Recommended album: Blackwater Park (2001)
Opeth is far from a typical melodic death metal, but I believe many melodeath fans became Opeth fans around the time of “Blackwater Park” and “Deliverance”.
Recommended album: Defiant Imagination (2005)
Takes the technical side of melodeath to the max. The 2000 album “Day Into Night” has a strong Carcass influence, and the successor “Defiant Imagination” goes all in on technicality, even featuring super-star bass player Steve DiGiorgio.
Origin: United States
Recommended album: Dechristianize (2003)
The “Dechristianize” album is overwhelming, loud and technical as hell, but it’s also very melodic. If you can handle Glen Benton’s overbearing vocals and a massive wall of sound, there’s plenty of melodic death metal goodness in there as well.