Old school death metal is a style of death metal. It refers to the old school ways of playing the music style in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The two strongest movements in old school death metal occurred in Sweden and the U.S. There are also relevant bands from many other countries around the world.
Old school death metal also had a revival in the 2000’s. I’ll include some of the best bands from this movement in the part about so-called “new old school death metal”. This article is a part of my full guide to the death metal genre.
- Stefan Nordström
- Vocalist, guitarist, music writer
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Member of Desolator, Soliloquium and several other projects
Listen to Desolator
My old school death metal band, for fans of Morbid Angel, Immolation, Vader and more:
Listen to Soliloquium
My progressive death/doom metal band, for fans of Katatonia, Swallow the Sun, Daylight Dies and more:
Old school death metal essentials
But screw new old school death metal for now. Instead, let’s talk essential stuff from the 80’s and early 90’s.
Autopsy is one of the most gruesome-sounding death metal bands ever. The first two albums “Severed Survival” and “Mental Funeral” are regarded as classics by most. And I agree. If you want to learn about death metal, they’re essential spins. Personally, I enjoy “Severed Survival” a bit more, but both are savage as fuck.
Most Bolt Thrower songs sound the same, but you can also instantly hear that it’s Bolt Thrower. These Brits invented a war themed-death metal style that you can hear in many similar bands today, like Hail of Bullets, Just Before Dawn and Decaying.
No death metal without Death, right? Yeah, it is that simple. If you’re looking to hear the essence and history of death metal music, 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore” and 1988’s “Leprosy” have to be included. And the rest of Death’s discography is awesome too, albeit in a more progressive and melodic style.
Deicide and their anti-Christian antics got a lot of attention in the 90’s. And the music isn’t bad either. To me, the band is a bit bigger than the songwriting warrants, but I still find myself headbanging to “Dead by Dawn” and “Sacrificial Suicide” once in a while. There are also some nice tunes from the band’s newer material. Just skip the 2000 and 2001 releases.
As you can read in my article about the best Swedish death metal bands, Dismember is my big favorite from the scene. They have a solid discography overall, but the pinnacle is definitely 1991 debut “Like an Everflowing Stream”. Despite being a debut, it combines everything good about Swedish death metal on one album.
Edge of Sanity
Dan Swanö’s Edge of Sanity is another kick-ass example of old school Swedish death metal. “Unorthodox” (1992) and “The Spectral Sorrows” (1993)are perfect examples of what the style can do, and Swanö’s weird guitar playing makes them stand out in the crowd.
After abandoning most of the brutality, the band also became a staple in both melodeath and progressive death metal.
Anyone with a basic knowledge about Swedish death metal knows that Entombed wrote the bible with 1990’s “Left Hand Path”. And it’s a 100 % mandatory listen if you’re looking to explore old school death metal. But don’t forget my personal favorite, ambitious sophomore release “Clandestine”.
Before heading into other genre territory, Entombed also managed to outline the death n’ roll music style with 1993’s “Wolverine Blues”.
In underground metal, consistency is key. Malevolent Creation may not be the best, but they’ve certainly made a whole bunch of good albums, my favorite being 1995’s “Eternal”. However, you can’t really go wrong in the band’s massive discography.
Sweden’s Merciless was one of the earliest bands to play extreme music. The band’s intense brand of thrash-infused death metal feels underrated today. Maybe it’s the fact that so many similar-styled bands came after. But despite that, I think Merciless is worth checking out for anyone that wants to explore old school death metal.
All four albums are quality, including 1994’s more melodic “Unbound” and the self-titled comeback album from 2002.
It’s hard to talk about death metal without talking about Morbid Angel, and especially their first three albums. “Altars of Madness” is a hyper-influential beast. Albums B and C in their twisted alphabet are simply damn enjoyable.
Obituary is as fun and games as death metal gets, and their first two (maybe three) albums are mandatory listening. Tardy’s pukey vocal approach is unmistakable, and the hardcore-fueled hooks make the band stand out even more.
Somewhere on the border between death metal and thrash metal, Pestilence from the Netherlands dominated in the late 80’s. Legendary vocalist Martin van Drunen was one big reason. But the band also wrote some unforgettably catchy and intense tunes.
Whether Possessed or Death actually created death metal is an eternal, painful debate. Fuck the debate and enjoy both bands! 1985’s “Seven Churches” is a mandatory death metal listen, and the 2019 comeback album was surprisingly vital as well.
It’s hard to classify Poland’s Vader as anything but simply “death metal”, but I think they belong here, being one of the most long-running and consistent bands in the scene. Whichever Vader album you choose to dive into, it’s bound to be quality. Personally, I think their best ones are from their early 2000’s (“Litany” and “Revelations”).
New old school death metal
The movement many call “new old school death metal” came about in the early 2000’s. Bloodbath’s “Breeding Death” EP and “Resurrection through Carnage” album brought the Dismember/Entombed style back in fashion.
Bloodbath is the obvious example mostly due to the Opeth/Katatonia/Edge of Sanity connection. There were also several great bands in the Swedish underground putting out great material, notably Kaamos, Puteraeon and Repugnant.
However, new old school death metal quickly became over-saturated. Many Entombed-like bands with the same guitar distortion and riffs tried their luck, including me with my project Ending Quest.
Bloodbath is an all-star death metal project by members from Opeth, Katatonia and Edge of Sanity. It all started as a fun gag, which became the “Breeding Death” EP. Chainsaw guitar-fueled full-length “Resurrection through Carnage” followed in 2002, immediately making the band a big player in the death metal scene.
Bloodbath’s fame was a part in the new old school death metal explosion, most notably for showing fans of other death metal genres what it was all about. Many people that got into “Resurrection through Carnage” and “Nightmares Made Flesh” never heard bands like Dismember and Entombed before, making the new stuff a gateway into the old.
Wow, this is just such a stupidly underrated band. Dismember tribute band name aside, Deathevokation’s sound is more about bringing out the melodic aspects of old school death metal. Sometimes atmospheric and doomy, sole 2007 album “The Chalice of Ages” is a true gem that deserves more fans.
Demonical is meat-and-potatoes Swedish death metal to the core, but damn, it’s still so enjoyable. You know what to expected: chainsaw distortion to 11, sing-along growl hooks, punk-fueled violence. There’s no originality in sight, but it’s just damn enjoyable in its simple ferocity.
Granted, Interment was around for a long time before the new movement started. But they didn’t get around to releasing an album until 2010. Luckily, the old school death metal revival was still in full swing then. Interment play Stockholm death metal according to every core value there ever was. And many of the songs are super-catchy.
Kaamos is one of the most underrated death metal bands out there. I had the pleasure of seeing them live on many local Stockholm gigs. The music is intense, well-written and true to the old school death metal values. Both full-length albums are highly recommended.
When talented people make music together, shit usually goes right. That can definitely be said for Murder Squad, an Autopsy-influenced project by members from Entombed and Dismember. Both albums are utter disgusting death metal carnage, and some material even features Chris Reifert from Autopsy on guest vocals.
Just like Kaamos, Puteraeon is another old school revival band that got a bit under-appreciated during the boom. This Lovecraft-themed Swedish death metal band made some damn good tunes in the early 2010’s. Aside from the tunes, Puteraeon is also one hell of a live band, and a bunch of funny dudes. Totally worth checking out, especially the debut album.
Repugnant’s sole album “Epitome of Darkness” is a number one new old school death metal pick for many. And I can see why, even if I don’t agree personally. It’s very raw and very 80’s, to the point where songwriting and execution reminds me of Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore” more than anything else. Sadly, Repugnant didn’t deliver any proper paychecks, and Tobias had to go on to form Ghost instead.
The Curse features members from Kaamos, and continues in a similar music direction. Luckily, the quality is pretty much the same. Less fortunate is the fact that the band has only released an EP so far. But at least it’s damn good!
How about some Desolator?
Now, that you hopefully know more about old school death metal than before, I believe it’s time to check out my band Desolator. We’re a Swedish death metal band influenced by U.S. bands like Immolation and Morbid Angel, but we also have a foundation from the classic Stockholm sound.