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There are many countries whose death metal scenes get constant and universal praise: Finland, Sweden, Canada, the Florida, and New York scenes within the United States, but there’s one country that gets woefully underappreciated for their contributions to death metal, and it’s time to rectify that through this piece on underrated nineties Australian death metal.
Most know about the prominent death metal bands coming out of Australia nowadays, like tech death maestros Psycroptic, dissonant nightmare wielders Portal, comedic slammers Whoretopsy, and brutal death extraordinaires Disentomb, but not enough attention gets paid to the formative years of the Australian death metal scene. I hope to rectify that with this list of 11 essential nineties Australian death metal masterpieces. I limited this list to EPs, splits, and LPs, so although there were influential Australian death metal bands that only released demos (for example, see: Necrotomy’s 1990 Cranial Dismemberment and 1991 Orectic Awakening), I wanted to create something of digestible length that would serve as an introduction to some of the early bands within Australia’s death metal scene. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it is one with plenty of music that illustrates the talent and diversity in the early Australian death metal scene. The list that follows includes more orthodox bands playing straight-death metal, and much more bizarre ensembles that barely resemble what we would call modern-day death metal. Either way, rather than getting caught up in semantics, I hope you find something new to enjoy!
Abramelin – Abramelin (1995)
It is of no surprise that previous members of Disembowelment and Acheron would release such a stellar work of brutal death metal perfection. Catchy, talented songwriting is combined with a varied drum approach and low, guttural vocals to form one of my favorite BDM albums out of the Australian death metal scene. Although this album is difficult to come by, you can find this alongside all of Abramelin’s works in the Transgressing the Afterlife – The Complete Recordings 1988-2002 compilation set that Century Media released in 2013.
Acheron – Deprived of Afterlife EP (1991)
This was the only non-demo release that Acheron put out, but it’s ridiculously good. This is some heavy old school death metal with ultra-low vocals, harkening to something that sounds like it’s out of Finland. They eventually changed their name to Abramelin (the first band on this list), to avoid confusion with the American band called Acheron. You can also find Acheron’s entire discography in the Abramelin compilation set, Transgressing the Afterlife -The Complete Recordings 1988-2002.
Alchemist – Jar of Kingdom (1993)
Encyclopedia Metallum categories Alchemist as avant-garde/progressive death metal, but that doesn’t describe what this album sounds like whatsoever. The closest music comparison I can make to this bizarre album is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Carbonized’s Disharmonization. Yes, it has harsh vocals, and yes it has furious musicianship, but the playing is sometimes atonal, the instrumentation is often unorthodox, and overall this is a psychedelic trip of an album. Nothing sounds like Jar of Kingdom except Jar of Kingdom. Not recommended for fans of death metal, or human music in general. Highly recommended for ten-limbed space aliens tripping on cosmic shrooms.
Alarum – Fluid Motion (1998)
Alarum are Australia’s answer to Cynic, Atheist, and later Death, illustrated further by that they toured with bands like Necrophagist, Arsis, and Neuraxis and released albums through Earache and Willowtip. They’re technical, they’re progressive, and they’re avant-garde. Fluid Motion isn’t necessarily death metal, but the same could be said of most Cynic releases, as such, many wouldn’t categorize Alarum as death metal at all, but if you want some challenging music that isn’t afraid of incorporating many influences, then you’ll find much to love in Alarum. Fans of bands like Canada’s Martyr and Russia’s Aspid (Аспид) will find much to enjoy here.
Cruciform – Atavism (1993)
The members of Cruciform were in a thrash band in 1991 called Dearly Beheaded together, which they left to form Cruciform, a pioneering death metal band with prominent doom elements. Cruciform couldn’t have been much more different from their previous group, which was fast-paced and had soaring operatic clean vocals complete with vibrato. Cruciform went the complete opposite direction by focusing on crushing mid-paced death metal riffs and guttural vocals. Atavism rolls perpetually forward like a boulder with an insatiable thirst for crushing. It’s a modern-day classic, and if your death metal collection is missing it, then it’s about time you correct that.
Disembowelment – Transcendence into the Peripheral (1993)
Disembowelment’s coveted masterpiece is one of the most revered death doom albums of all time, and with good reason. It has a crushingly oppressive atmosphere, plenty of thick riffs, and it’s also not afraid to go into full-on death metal territory to create contrast for the slower, doomier and more ambient passages, which comes as no surprise since one of the guitarists was previously in Acheron. Half of the lineup would form Inverloch, a band that would continue the trajectory set here while also regularly playing songs from this masterpiece.
Misery – A Necessary Evil (1993)
If you like chunky riffs like what can be found on Gutted’s Bleed for Us to Live, then check out Misery’s A Necessary Evil that predates Gutted‘s release by one year. These Brisbane natives have a tried and true formula: simple, catchy, brutal. This is one of my favorite albums on this list, and if you’re a fan of old school, raw death metal music and you haven’t heard this, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. The band reformed a couple of years back, so get on board and support them so they can keep putting out incredible albums like A Necessary Evil.
Mortification – Mortification (1991)
Mortification are an especially well known and influential death metal band, not only because they played good meat-and-potatoes rough-and-tumble death metal, but also because they were one of the first Christian death metal bands. Nothing about this album sounds inherently Christian until you open up the booklet and look at the lyrics, some of which are about Christ healing you and things of that sort. But don’t worry about that if the lyrical content isn’t your jam, what you get here is pure, unbridled death metal – complete with riffs, mid-paced blasts, and guttural growls. Since this great 1991 debut, Mortification continues to this day, having released 14 full-length albums in addition to splits, EPs, compilations, and live albums.
Mournful Congregation – Tears from a Grieving Heart (1999)
Mournful Congregation are one of the most prominent death doom bands nowadays, who reinforced that through their excellent release last year The Incubus of Karma, but it all started with this, their 1999 debut, which combines death metal with funeral doom. This is likely their most simplistic release, as at this point they were only a two-piece act, and so this release is boiled down to the most fundamental elements of funeral death doom. Another thing of note is that the bassist and vocalist that put out this 1999 album (Damon Good) put out another influential release that year that they were also the vocalist and bassist on – Stargazer’s split with Invocation, which sounds nothing like Mournful Congregation, and is detailed lower on this list. If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie like me, this might be on the slower side for you, but for those that love the slower end of the death/doom divide, this is for you.
Sadistik Exekution – The Magus (1991)
This is an undeniable classic. The production, riffs, and vocals remind of Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, but with a blacker edge and a clunkier bass tone. This is especially impressive since although it wasn’t released until two years after Morbid Angel’s debut, it was actually recorded prior to the release of Altars. If Sadistik Exekution had beaten Morbid Angel to the punch, who knows how death metal’s history would have been different. It’s fierce and uniquely reflective of a 90s sound that you just don’t get in modern releases.
StarGazer/Invocation – Harbringer / H.A.S.T.U.R. split (1999)
I like this inclusion in the list because it lets me include two incredible bands. Can you imagine if StarGazer did a split with Portal? Well, it sort-of already happened. Invocation is a band that really hasn’t been acknowledged for their place in history, even though they turned into the dissonant powerhouse that is Australia’s Portal. Before the years of cuckoo-clock heads and an unsettling barrage of mechanical riffs, there was a similarly unsettling presence found in Brisbane’s Invocation. Stargazer’s early material on this is more aggressive and more straight-forward than would be found on later avant-garde masterpieces like The Scream that Tore the Sky and A Merging to the Boundless, but no less brilliant. Similar can be said of Invocation, as these songs are dark, churning death metal with more orthodox riffs and structures than what is heard with Portal, but you can still hear the seeds of Portal’s darkness being sewn here.