Technical death metal is a sub-genre in the death metal music style. As the name suggests, it features a high level of technical proficiency.
It tends to be a polarizing style of death metal for various reasons. Some bands tend to go all-in on playing as many notes per second as possible. In this strife for technicality, death metal essentials like hooks and aggression can go lost.
This article is a part of my full guide to death metal and its sub-genres.
- 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:
My relationship with technical death metal
Personally, I have a strange relationship with technical death metal. And it’s just for this reason. Bands like Necrophagist, Obscura and Spawn of Possession don’t really catch my attention, despite the extremely proficient musicianship.
I know I will piss of some people with this. It’s not my intention, and if you’re only looking for insane musicianship, there are certainly things to enjoy in them.
But I don’t mind technical playing it itself, as long as its combined with other positive traits. Keep reading and I’ll get to the bands that I think do it right.
Note: the sub-genre is often mixed with brutal death metal and/or progressive death metal. Because of that, many bands will occur on several different lists.
Technical death metal essentials
Before getting into my massive A-Z band list, I’ll give you the option to do a quick dive into the style. These are my 10 essential technical death metal albums:
- Death – Human (1991)
- Decapitated – Winds of Creation (2000)
- Hour of Penance – The Vile Conception (2008)
- Infinitum – The Sixth Extinction (2012)
- Insision – Beneath the Folds of Flesh (2002)
- Lykathea Aflame – Elvenefris (2000)
- Nile – Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)
- Psycroptic – The Scepter of the Ancients (2003)
- Sceptic – Internal Complexity (2005)
- Suffocation – Pierced from Within (1995)
Technical death metal bands, A-Z
Anata is a Swedish tech-death band featuring some glorious guitar-work. The band was on the rise in the early 2000’s, before diminishing in what seems to be label and business trouble. It was sad to see the band go when it felt they were just starting out. The last two Anata albums remain some of the best technical death metal out there.
Atheist brought jazz to death metal in the early 90’s, creating a whole new aspect of technical death metal. And influence aside, it’s some damn good stuff that didn’t forget about the aggression either. Like many bands on the list, listening to Atheist is a combination of learning tech-death history and just enjoying the killer music.
Cryptopsy’s first two albums are absolutely bananas for their time, both in terms of brutality and technicality. Firstly, it’s good background on the style. Secondly, it’s some of the craziest death metal ever created. It’s a band that still raises my eyebrows, even with all the development in the death metal scene after the albums.
Death’s “Human” album wrote a lot of the rules for playing good technical death metal. Musical wizardry on the highest level is mixed with aggression, riffs and meticulous songwriting. “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic” went more straight-forward and catchy, but retained the technical and progressive edge.
The first three Decapitated albums are examples of mandatory tech-death. Equally violent and technical, they’re a sonic onslaught that is a prime example of what the style can sound like when done just right.
Everyone knows “Spheres of Madness” from the “Nihility” album, but I hold debut “Winds of Creation” and ultra-aggressive “The Negation” the highest.
Decrepit Birth is a U.S. band with four acclaimed albums in their discography. Like many entries on this list, the band treads the line between brutal and technical death metal. I’ve found their material refreshingly melodic at times, but I have to admit that the extreme technicality overwhelms me at times. There’s no denying that the playing is downright insane, though.
Few albums compete with the “Obscura” album when it comes to sounding downright insane. It’s far from a personal favorite of mine, but I can see the appeal of the dissonant, anti-traditional approach.
Personally, I find myself enjoying their newer, more balanced material more, as well as their early death metal stuff like “The Erosion of Sanity”.
Hideous Divinity used to be a competent, but decent band to me. Everything changed with 2019’s “Simulacrum”. The band’s amazing playing became accompanied by a morbid sense of atmosphere that really makes the music stand out. It’s ridiculously technical music. But damn, now the band nails the atmosphere part, too!
Hour of Penance
Infinitum is the best hidden tip in technical death metal. The Australian band put out two-full length albums shocked-filled with quality riffs and great songwriting. An easy description is a more melodic take on Suffocation. It doesn’t quite tell the full story though, as the music has a really cool edge to it that you simply need to hear to understand.
Infinitum is a personal favorite of mine and one of the best hidden gems in death metal. The Australia-based band released two albums before disappearing into obscurity, and didn’t get near the deserved exposure. It was a huge loss, because the sound and songwriting was truly fantastic.
Basically, the band is a more melodic take on Suffocation, with a sense of epicness and amazing riff-transitions and hooks. I still feel amazed whenever I listen to the band.
Sweden’s Insision is another one of those unbelievably underrated death metal bands. The stuff the band did on its first two albums was top-class, and the other output is good.
The cool part about Insision is how they mix classic technical death metal from the U.S. with hooks and riffs that aren’t usually a part of the style. Very good songwriters that deserve a much higher place in the death metal hierarchy.
Combining violent technical death metal with melody is not easy. Many bands have failed. However, Kronos from France knew exactly what they were doing. Blazing instrumental playing, catchy hooks and nice variation made their music a joy to listen to.
Why past tense? Well, they recently called it quits. At least I managed to see them live twice!
Poland has so many death metal bands. And to me, Lost Soul is one of the absolute best. Most people seem to dig the newer, super-ambitious albums, but 2005’s “Chaostream” is the one that remains my favorite. It combines classic Polish-style death metal with technical prowess in a perfect way. Super-tight, yet very catchy and aggressive! What more do you need?
Lykathea Aflame’s sole album “Elvenefris” is some of the weirdest death metal stuff you will ever hear, guaranteed. But it’s not only weird, it’s also really good. Which is damn impressive, when you choose to combine proggy major key melodies with borderline grindcore. Highly recommended!
Monstrosity is a classic 90’s U.S. death metal band, featuring a lot of aggression and guitar wizardry. They’re mostly famous for once having Cannibal Corpse’s George Fisher on vocals. That is misleading, because in my opinion Monstrosity released their best albums later on. 2007’s “Spiritual Apocalypse” is their masterpiece.
It may not have the blazing technicality from albums like “Millenium”, but it combines the technical parts with excellent songwriting and atmosphere.
It’s hard to talk about technical death metal without mentioning Nile. And it’s well-grounded. A lot of their material has some of the craziest guitar-work and drumming ever seen in death metal. The songwriting is also on point, too.
“Annihilation of the Wicked” is my personal favorite, but most Nile albums have cool songs, featuring both blazing technicality and memorable hooks.
Australia’s Psycroptic is a long-time favorite of mine, and one of the most unique technical death metal bands out there. The band has so much more than blazing technicality. Really good Psycroptic songs have an amazing sense of groove, not to mention out-of-the-box vocal approaches.
“The Scepter of the Ancients” will always remain my favorite, but there’s plenty of other good stuff in the discography as well.
Sceptic is an underrated player in technical death metal. I really dig their album “Internal Complexity”. It mixes Polish-style chugging with a sense of melody that reminds me a lot of what Death did on the “Symbolic” album. Easily some of the most underrated music ever made in the tech-death sub-genre.
Netherlands is a country mostly famous for raw, old school death metal like Pestilence, Asphyx and God Dethroned. But there is other stuff as well! Severe Torture is good proof, delivering quality brutal and technical death metal over a long span of albums.
Suffocation’s “Pierced from Within” is my bible for both technical and brutal death metal. The 1991 debut “Effigy of the Forgotten” was also instrumental in shaping both genres. You can’t really talk about technical death metal without going into Suffocation.
To me, Ulcerate is, sort of, the Deathspell Omega of death metal. Really disjointed, anti-melodic stuff. I found myself enjoying the band more and more over the years. For the newcomer, Ulcerate definitely demands some extra patience. But the patience is rewarded.
Other death metal sub-genre guides
I hope this gave you the basics (and more) on technical death metal music. Follow the links below if you want to continue to explore sub-genres. If you enjoyed the guide, and you’re a fan of Swedish death metal, I’d love if you checked out my band Desolator.