It’s hard to think that Obituary have been a death metal mainstay now for well over three decades. Formed in 1988, Obituary hit their stride straight out of the gate with the iconic Florida death metal record Slowly We Rot. Whilst the band’s first outing was a monumental tour de force, it was only one mere year later that the group would redefine the genre with their sophomore release, and subject of today’s retrospective, Cause of Death.
Scour forums online or ask someone in the street what their favourite Obituary album is and chances are high that they will respond with this record, and why? Because Cause of Death was and still is completely timeless and indestructible.
The first thing you may pick on when listening to this record for the first time is the cleaner production quality than some contemporary records released at the time such as: Death’s Spiritual Healing, Deicide S/T, Cannibal Corpse’s Eaten Back To Life and Entombed’s Left Hand Path. Cause of Death features much more considered and layered instrumentation than some of the other albums mentioned above, with a slower but deeper feel and an earth shattering groove that is onerous to escape from.
On Obituary’s second record there is a cold aura that interlaces itself within the icy strings of a young Trevor Peres’ guitar assault as John Tardy’s iconic fierce bark permeates every second of this relentless record. It’s no secret that early on the band were inspired by the likes of Celtic Frost and Possessed (even covering the former on this very album) but their worship of these prior acts shed its skin quickly when delving deeper into exactly what makes their subsequent title stand out the way it does.
Take the second track on offer here for instance, Body Bag. We’re treated to a slow winding build up of thick chugging muted power chords before the double kicks and razor sharp shredding pierce their way through. Not to mention the screaming leads and stunning solo present that have almost a progressive and melodic quality that suit the music beautifully, riding off the rhythm rather than puncturing through purely for the point of being prolific.
It almost sounds like a criticism when I say that Cause of Death sounds delightfully lifeless in execution, but I assure you that could not be further from the truth. The sinister numbing feeling apparent on the release is like nothing you can find on those four albums mentioned above. Cannibal Corpse and Deicide may have been ruthless but there was life in those veins, a chaotic and almost fun/self-serving energy that ate off itself as it consumed all in its way. Obituary achieved that unsettling, morbid and completely deadpan seriousness in their writing here even with some of the grooviest flows ever heard in the genre, before or since.
Cannibal Corpse are an American death metal band formed in Buffalo, New York all the way back in 1988. For over three decades, and several lineup changes, they have been the fearsome gold standard in mainstream death metal music. With no more delay, here’s our definitive ranking list of all fourteen Cannibal Corpse albums, ranked from worst to best.
#14 – Bloodthirst (1999)
The difficult thing about ranking this list for me is that Cannibal Corpse are an incredibly steady and consistent band which makes their mid era particularly challenging to rank above or below any others from the early 2000s.
Bloodthirst is a good death metal album and features a few great songs amongst a pile of listenable ones. Condemned to Agony and Pounded Into Dust remain favourites in my rotation to this day, even if listening through the whole thing start to finish can be exhausting.
#13 – Kill (2006)
Kill marked Rob Barrett’s return to the band after his departure following the release of The Bleeding in 1996. His presence was strongly felt on an album that otherwise would have been nothing special in the field of death metal.
That said, Kill featured the standout single Death Walking Terror with a guitar tuning all the way to G# for the first time in a way that really benefitted their brutal sound.
Like a lot of Cannibal Corpse’s post-Barnes era, Kill is another solid effort into the band’s fierce discography.
#12 – Torture (2012)
Torture posed a challenge for the band having to follow up their smash hit record Evisceration Plague, and despite all odds, Torture was a fantastic death metal album with some real highlights on display.
This album features my personal favourite Cannibal Corpse song of all time, Encased In Concrete as well as the earth shattering powerhouse Scourge of Iron. For those reasons alone, Torture ranks higher on this list than some others. It may not be as good as what came before or after, but it’s certainly not a record to overlook if you’re a fan of the genre.
#11 – The Wretched Spawn (2004)
Unlike an album like Bloodthirst or others on the list so far, The Wretched Spawn is where I can confidently say that I can spin the album start to finish and have a consistently great experience without the need to skip through and play favourites.
With production that’s razor blade sharp and a groovy flow that never lets go, this album is pulverising throughout. Highlights include; They Deserve To Die, Frantic Disembowelment and Nothing Left To Mutilate.
#10 – Gallery of Suicide (1998)
The second album featuring Corpsegrinder on vocals and one of his stronger efforts in his career with the band. It’s an album that starts incredibly powerfully with the polemic opener I Will Kill You.
Gallery of Suicide marks a turning point where the records rose above the controversy, as a band they had effectively shaken off the stigma that had stuck to them with the messy departure of Chris Barnes and demonstrated that they could make punishing death metal without their founding father guiding the ship. It may not be their most exciting but it’s a fun bloody ride.
#9 – Gore Obsessed (2002)
This is where I feel the divisive nature of my choices are going to come to a head. Many would say that albums like Gore Obsessed or Gallery of Suicide have no business being ranked above Bloodthirst and to those people, I give you my answer.
When Death Replaces Life is one of the grooviest songs I have ever heard. Opening slow with a pulsing and haunting dissonance before raging into a pounding and relentless rhythm with chugging guitar and machine gun drums as George delivers his most devastating growls to date.
There are songs of a similar vein on Gore Obsessed that have that groovy death and roll feel that embody the likes of Carcass for a unique grinding experience.
#8 – Red Before Black (2017)
Cannibal Corpse’s most recent release to date and a powerful example of exactly why they’re one of if not the most well known and revered names in death metal.
Red Before Black has some outstanding moments that’s bolstered up by the band being at the top of their game thirty years down the line. Scavengers Consuming Death, Firestorm Vengeance, Code of the Slashers and Heads Shovelled Off are just a few reasons as to why this record has been spun so actively in my library over the last few years.
#7 – Vile (1996)
Somewhat of an outlier of an album as it being Rob Barrett’s last guitar effort with the band until Kill and simultaneously Corpsegrinder’s first on vocals. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked but the execution was unexpectedly flawless.
Vile was also the last time the band worked with Scott Burns producing, marking an end to a six year streak that began with their 1990 debut album that we will talk about later on this list.
All that aside, the record is crushing and unapologetically savage. George Fisher’s powerful mid-growl permeates some of the band’s most interesting and out there guitar riffs that tried to differentiate vividly from all what came before with Barnes. In terms of where to start with Vile, you really can’t go wrong with Devoured by Vermin and Absolute Hatred, two tracks that still slay when performed live to this day.
#6 – A Skeletal Domain (2014)
Following up on Evisceration Plague and building on the groundwork laid by Kill and Torture, A Skeletal Domain is a monumental landmark in American death metal that introduces a slight lean towards more a mainstream and catchy sound without shying away from the band’s more gruesome elements.
It is a difficult challenge to pick a favourite from this extremely strong lineup of fresh and fierce songs; High Velocity Impact Splatter, Kill or Become, Icepick Lobotomy, Sadistic Embodiment. There’s definitely a case here for one of Cannibal Corpse’s most sturdy sets.
#5 – Eaten Back To Life (1990)
In many ways Cannibal Corpse’s debut is a pioneering achievement in not only thrash/death metal but music overall. Clearly taking cues from the likes of Possessed’s 1985 debut Seven Churches and perhaps more prominently taking elements from Death’s 1987 record Scream Bloody Gore, the boys from Buffalo dialled everything up to 11 and shook the landscape of extreme music forever.
Chris Barnes’ disgusting growl was something deeper than what had been heard in the late 80s and the way the band played in E Flat on guitar, refusing to compromise, made Eaten Back To Life something leaner and meaner than its contemporaries. One of their best in their discography for sure.
#4 – Evisceration Plague (2009)
This album has a special place in my heart for being my introduction to the band alongside the live album Global Evisceration that dropped afterwards in 2011. As a result, there may be a degree of bias in my decision to rank this one so highly but I cannot deny the sheer power and brutality that pours out of every second of this modern death metal masterpiece.
This album is without question the one from Cannibal Corpse’s back catalogue that I have listened to the most over the years and the one that I have a great amount of respect for. Not only did Evisceration Plague wet my appetite for extreme metal in general but it also was what made me want to pick up a guitar endulge in some bloodshed of my own.
Hyperbole aside, the band’s 2009 album is incredible cover to cover and never lets up across its forty minute runtime. This is the album I introduce people to death metal to for a reason, one of the latest and greatest.
#3 – Butchered At Birth (1991)
Now this is what I call classic fucking death metal! Dirty and deranged right through the core, nothing to lose but everything to prove with a stellar follow up to their debut only one year later.
The band’s sophomore release is every bit more evil and refined then what came before on Eaten Back To Life. It was less thrash metal orientated and was more comfortable laying it’s own foundation than building on the blueprint of what came in the late 1980s.
When people think of death metal, chances are some of the first images that come into their minds are that of the album cover here alongside visualising images found in the lyrics for iconic tracks like; Meat Hook Sodomy, Vomit The Soul and Under The Rotted Flesh.
Butchered At Birth is a triumph in extreme music and has stood the test of time now for almost thirty years for a reason. It’s near impossible to beat it, as far as old school American death metal is concerned.
#2 – The Bleeding (1994)
Without a doubt, The Bleeding is one of the most vulgar and filthy records in old school death metal that is expertly complemented by technical buzzsaw guitars and Chris Barnes’ most revolting vocal delivery of his career thus far.
As Chris Barnes’ swansong and as this era and four year reign came to a close, it is astounding to see the culmination of so many creative and innovative ideas here that refused to play it safe.
Just one listen to the mammoth that is Staring Through The Eyes of the Dead or Fucked With aKnife will get you addicted in a way that you never felt could be possible with death metal of this calibre. It’s a tough call at the top of this list but there’s no debate that The Bleeding deserves its celebration and acclaim.
#1 – Tomb of the Mutilated (1992)
It’s always hard playing favourites but for me, there is simply nothing better done by the band than their 1992 Opus entitled Tomb of the Mutilated.
If Evisceration Plague was where I discovered the band and my developed my love and interest in death metal then Tomb was the moment that the genre became not only an obsession, but in many ways, a way of life.
How do you possibly top records like Eaten Back To Life and Butchered At Birth? Well for Cannibal Corpse, that answer seemed to be staring them in the face, you make an effort to make everything darker and dirtier than ever.
Tomb provided the band to this very day with a long list of their most well known songs for a reason, and that reason is the majority of what you will find on this album is the monolith of the death metal, an unequivocal gold standard that has yet to be beaten by the band.
I Cum Blood, Addicted To Vaginal Skin, Beyond the Cemetery and Hammer Smashed Face are only a few songs on this record that have shaken the world on its axis. I know it may be a generic choice, and perhaps a little cliché, but there is no denying the impact and the influence that Tomb of the Mutilated had and continues to have on not only death metal but on pop culture and music itself. Tomb is responsible for so much and without it, it’s very likely that very few of us would be where we are today.