One of the conventional narratives about the invention of death metal is that it is so named because of the band Death, who supposedly pioneered the genre. Now, there were other bands in other places that also either claim credit or have been retroactively given credit, but Death’s claim is pretty good simply because they can say “it’s called death metal after all”. (This is a better claim than the claim that a song called “Black Metal” invented the genre of black metal or the final track here, called “Death Metal”, invented death metal because coincidence isn’t really compelling.)
But the thing about Death’s claim is that their debut, Scream Bloody Gore was released in May 1987. (It was recorded in November 1986, over a year after this album was released.) And yes, Death put out demos from 1984 on. But how many people heard those demos?
And here’s the thing about this record: it was recorded a year and a half before Scream Bloody Gore, it was released a year before that was recorded, and it was released on an actual label. And much of it – though not all of it – sure sounds to me like death metal.
Now, putting aside whatever qualitative judgments you want to make about this record – and people seem to want to complain about it for some reason – this fact makes it one of the most important and influential metal albums fo the 1980s. There are thrash metal albums from 1985 that people fall all over themselves about as “innovative” or “important” or whatever. That’s how early this record came out – thrash was still very much the thing in the (American) metal world.
As for the music, it’s definitely on the spectrum from thrash to death more than it feels like actual death. The vocals are key, of course, as is the drumming. But, especially when Becerra isn’t growling, you can very clearly see its roots in thrash. That doesn’t make me think less of it – it makes a lot of sense.
“First” isn’t everything but music exists in time and space. I have yet to listen to Death’s demos but I have a hard time imagining that listening to a 15 minute tape would change my mind about the importance of this record. I know of nothing else like this from 1985 or earlier, and that makes it a massively important record.