*No question Norway’s reputation for black metal surpasses its meager death metal offerings over the last 20 decades. The first five years of the Second Wave of Black Metal (or Norway’s inaugural) had more activity than the country’s entire death metal history. Even so, the genre of death didn’t bow completely to corpsepaint and lo-fi production values. It was always there, lurking in the shadows. And it’s still there, far more prevalent now than ever before. Decibel flips through the musty pages of history to highlight the Top 5 Norwegian Death Metal Albums Of All Time.
5. Gorelord – Force Fed On Human Flesh (Baphomet)
A one-time or long-time member of Grimfist, Hemnur, Wurdulak, and Necrophagia, mainman Frediablo (aka Fred Prytz) was, for a few years in the mid-2000s, Norway’s answer to mid-1990s Dan Swanö. The guy was involved in all kinds of projects, most notably Necrophagia and Gorelord. While most Norwegian bands were still stuck in the throes of post-black metal (not the genre, but the era), Frediablo was making dirty, disgusting, somewhat catchy death metal, the likes of which were pulled from Autopsy, Repulsion, and early Death. Gorelord’s debut album, Force Fed On Human Flesh, didn’t get much attention in 2001 (though it was re-issued on Relapse through Phil Anselmo’s Housecore label), but that doesn’t mean the album’s not a monster. Force Fed On Human Flesh has all the trappings of classic death metal through a modern lens. The song titles are absolutely cliche, the lyrics are laughably gross, and the sound is superbly sanguine. “Dismembered Virgin Limbs” is the perfect lead-off track, with its mid-paced guts-out riffs and blood-gargle vocals. Had Force Fed On Human Flesh seen light of day in 1991, it’d be worshiped like other obscure, second-tier death, like Miasma, Sororicide, and UK’s Impaler. Then again, Frediablo did get Maniac and Killjoy to drop vocals on two tracks. Maybe Gorelord aren’t so sophomoric in hindsight.
4. Obliteration – Nekropsalms (Fysisk Format)
Darkthrone’s Fenriz was one of the first to call out Norwegian death metal artists Obliteration. Unlike most death metal of the day (late 2000s), the Norwegians opted for an older sound. The New Wave of Old-School Norwegian Death Metal perhaps. Not quite, but Kolbotn-based quartet blasted off into death metal’s tape-trading days like true pros on second album, Nekropsalms, where they finally found their proverbial footing. True fans may cite Perpetual Decay as the jump-off point for all things Obliteration, but it’s Nekropsalms that holds the key. Throughout Nekropsalms Obliteration capture the vibe, the air, and the terrible taste of stamp backs. When death metal was slower, more evil, and far more calculating. Songs like “Ingesting Death”, “Exterminate”, and the drawn-out and disgustingly dirty “The Worm That Gnaws in the Night” show Norway’s more than black metal, gothic metal, or whatever The Kovenant became after Nexus Polaris.
3. Molested – Blod-draum (Effigy)
Bergen-based Molested issued a single album before splintering into Borknagar, with guitarist Øystein Brun leading the charge. Though it was recorded in 1994, Blod-draum didn’t find distros until a year later through upstart label, Effigy. And even then it succumbed to Norway’s then-humming black metal machine. Blod-draum was seen as Norway’s last death metal vestige at the time. A relic of Stockholm or Tampa or New York, a sound derelict and passe to the raging youth of the day. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fine slab of slightly off-kilter death, however. “A Strife Won at Wraith”, “Unborn Woods in Doom”, and “Carved by Raven Claws” are perfect examples of Brun’s ability to bend his influences into sounds that were familiar but somehow grotesque and otherworldly. While most disregard Norwegian death metal (particularly from the mid-’90s), Blod-draum is one album in need of a comprehensive re-issue.
2. Cadaver – Hallucinating Anxiety (Necrosis)
Quite possibly the band that started death metal in Norway. Or at least the first band to have a label deal; with Jeff Walker and Bill Steer’s Necrosis Records. Though Cadaver went on to make left-of-field death after Hallucinating Anxiety as well as mutating into mechanical death metal outfit Cadaver Inc, what the Norwegians distilled in their debut is something that only the late-80s/early-90s bands can relate to. There’s something unkempt and peculiar reverberating throughout Hallucinating Anxiety. It’s as if it was designed (or partially designed) by teenagers who were exposed to too much horror or, at the very least, a group of barely-there musicians who had super-active imaginations and a copy of Reek of Putrefaction and Horrified on vinyl. The second “side” of Hallucinating Anxiety (the CD version) housed Carnage’s one and only classic Dark Recollections. Two corpses in one coffin kind of thing.
1. Darkthrone – Soulside Journey (Peaceville)
Before they were black metal, young ones Darkthrone were death metal. And damned good death metal, too. Soulside Journey represents death metal at its finest and most daring, at least for teenagers with one ear to Nihilist and Autopsy and the other to their own invention. Sporting one of the coolest album covers ever (a killer Duncan Fegredo piece), Soulside Journey spearheaded a complex journey down a path Darkthrone would never again tread. The Norwegians’ debut was, at once, brutal yet atmospheric. It was, at once, technical yet groove-laden. Soulside Journey was everything death metal wasn’t in the states. It had an aura to it. Like something out of Poe’s dark imagination. Or better yet HP Lovecraft’s outré brain. From opener “Cromlech” and follow-up track “Sunrise over Locus Mortis” to “Sempiternal Sepulchrality” and late-album sophisticate “Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia”, Soulside Journey was Norway’s crowning death metal achievement. To this very day, Soulside Journey remains an important pillar, an album necessary for completists and passersby.
Zyklon – Aeon (Candlelight)
Post-Emperor, Samoth and Trym exorcised their black metal demons in Zyklon. Second album, Aeon, is modern death metal that’s near-brutally perfect.
Old Funeral – Devoured Carcass EP (Thrash)
Old Funeral would’ve been on our list. However, gem Devoured Carcass is merely an EP. Guess who also played in Old Funeral before jumping off Tolkien’s deep end?
Blood Red Throne – Altered Genesis (Hammerheart)
Modern death metal through and through. Mechnical — especially the drums — and sterile — especially the production — but the Norwegians pull off a savage set not to be fucked lightly with.
Aeternus – Shadows of Old (Hammerheart)
Black metallers turned death metallers mid-way through their career, Aeternus never had the glittering press of their countrymen. Nevertheless, the Hordalanders made something darkly special on Shadows of Old. Death metal with a black metal anti-glow…