AMG’s Guide to Cannibal Corpse

The life of the unpaid, overworked metal reviewer is not an easy one. The reviewing collective at AMG lurches from one new release to the next, errors and n00bs strewn in our wake. But what if, once in a while, the collective paused to take stock and consider the discography of one of those bands that shaped many a taste? What if two aspects of the AMG collective personality shared with the slathering masses their personal rankings of that discography and what if the rest of the personality used a Google sheet some kind of dark magic to produce an official guide to, and all-round definitive aggregated ranking of, that band’s entire discography? Well, if that happened, we imagine it would like something like this …

Cannibal Corpse are the seminal death metal band. They may not be your favorite and nor were they the very first. But, without a doubt, they are responsible for prying an esoteric genre out from our jealous clutches and straight into the minds of the disapproving masses. Ever controversial and ever crushing, the mighty Corpse has successfully terrorized for over thirty years. Their selective forays into technicality and density have enamored new generations with every bite. True to form, the Buffalo natives have spread the Floridian virus consistently, even boasting one of the best late-career runs of any metal band. The band’s detractors have criticized them as “reliable,” which would seem an enviable problem for any creative endeavor. Now, vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher prepares to release his self-titled solo album on February 25th (that’s this Friday!), via Perseverance Media Group. In celebration, we at AMG have ranked the Cannibal Corpse discography so you, too, may participate in such gratuitous violence. Pull up a plate and prepare for a crash course in brain butchery. We hope you’re hungry…

Ferrous Beuller 

Ferrous Beuller 

I’ve been embroiled in a romance with death metal for over twenty years and Cannibal Corpse will forever be among my most memorable trysts. The band have been a constant for me throughout my entire adult life. Their familiarity feels like an old friend and I wouldn’t want to be without them. Ranking their sizeable discography may seem like a hefty undertaking but, in actual fact, has been a joy. It can’t be denied that Cannibal Corpse’s evolution was brief, they soon happened upon a formula that would only improve with time. As a result, the following ranking contains current and future death metal classics. Luckily for you, I’ve put them in the correct order.

The Ranking

#15. Eaten Back to Life (1990) – All debuts are naïve by nature. When Cannibal Corpse first rose up, they utilized a rough blend of thrash, which was still inherent in death metal at the time. The result was a fun but basic collection. My biggest criticism of Eaten is that it really doesn’t represent the band. There is plenty of fun to be had here but literally everything that came after was better. To make matters worse, the album’s rough-hewn style was fast going out of fashion. As it is, the record is something of a curio; a mere footnote among the genre’s greater entries.

#14. Butchered At Birth (1991) – Butchered At Birth dropped and redefined the band. Now ex-vocalist, Chris Barnes, had adapted his growls into one low regurgitation and the music followed suit. The riffs were meaner and lyrics were even more disgusting. What keeps this album low on my ranking is its lack of variation and homogenizing production. Hidden amidst the brutality are some cool riffs, but they are buried under too much grave soil. For many, the album still embodies what death metal should be. But the band would go on to bigger and bloodier things almost immediately.

#13. Red Before Black (2017) – The band’s current run of albums finds them resting firmly on their laurels. None more so than Red Before Black. There’s nothing truly egregious here other than overwhelming mediocrity. Considering this album would be the last to feature a lineup that forged the best consecutive run of albums in their discography, it’s a little hard to swallow. Nothing on Red Before Black bests anything else in the Corpsegrinder era. As a band who exemplify the genre’s purest form, the concept of “meat and potatoes” death metal has always eluded me. Sadly, Red Before Black often feels more tuber than terror.

#12. Violence Unimagined (2021) – As the latest Cannibal Corpse release, it’s tricky to place Violence Unimagined. After the controversial departure of guitarist Pat O’Brien, death metal maestro and long-time producer, Erik Rutan, permanently filled the spot. I had hoped for re-energized results but, ultimately, the material is business as usual. Although it never distinguishes itself in delivery, it never wants for exuberance-a quality Cannibal Corpse have successfully traded on. What the album does represent is promise; Rutan’s signature is very clear on certain songs. Hopefully, his future contributions will find a band revitalized and firing on all cylinders.

#11. Gore Obsessed (2002) – Gore Obsessed fucking rips. But it also sits squarely between two superior records. Stylistically, it follows directly from predecessor Bloodthirst. These arrangements rely on half-beats and odd time signatures to mete out its punishment, a quality the record has in spades. But, while the general riff-palate can’t be denied, it often tastes a little rote. Although the album packs a punch, I habitually tend to reach for its siblings instead. It’s placement on this list feels ephemeral; as if it could climb or drop at a moment’s notice. And that, in itself, is its greatest failing

#10. Gallery of Suicide (1998) – So many bands have that one album that resonates so differently with the fans. Gallery of Suicide has always represented a conundrum for me. Of all the Corpse albums, it is perhaps the record most predisposed to experimentation. “I Will Kill You” and “Sentenced to Burn” are favorites that deal in minor melodies, whereas “From Skin to Liquid” is about as close to doom as the band gets. Unfortunately, it is also subject to filler. I don’t typically play Gallery much, but when I do, I always find something new. If only it was a little more consistent.

#9. Tomb of the Mutilated (1992) – A legitimate death metal classic. Tomb of the Mutilated saw Cannibal Corpse truly find their groove, and in more ways than one. This is where Alex Webster and co. decided to up their game musically and begin improving in terms of technicality and rhythm. The legendary opener “Hammer Smashed Face” would find devotees from ensuing generations of fans, myself included. I simply don’t listen to Tomb that much as a series of superior albums proceed it. However, nobody can deny this album’s cult status. One well-deserved at that.

#8. Vile (1996) – Some albums aren’t given a fair chance, and Vile is one of them. 1995 saw the replacement of Chris Barnes with Monstrosity’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. Although it was already mostly written, the album was rushed out to accommodate the new vocalist. Perhaps in the context of its release, it left a little to be desired, but Vile has aged incredibly well. The riffs are vital, the vocals furious, and songs like “Disfigured” and “Monolith” deserve their reputation. Twenty-six years later and Vile enjoys a much stronger reception. It isn’t hard to see why.

#7. The Wretched Spawn (2004) – This one is a real beast of two faces. Much of this record’s first half feels overly safe. The early songs are often predictable and traditional in structure. But, as soon as “Festering in the Crypt” slowly begins to transcend the mortal coil, a series of tracks ensue that absolutely seethe with quality. Everything from the furious “Nothing Left to Mutilate” to the wholly excellent “Slain” would improve any death metal record. After a somewhat conservative opening, The Wretched Spawn leaves an indelible mark, which more than meets the requirements for this list’s upper echelons.

#6. A Skeletal Domain (2014) – A Skeletal Domain is the last in Cannibal Corpse’s unstoppable modern run. Sometime during the writing process, the band excavated a rich vein of thrash, which permeates the album. The enhanced kinesis permits the material a sense of urgency that would transform cuts like “Kill or Become” into a career highlight. This one simple characteristic illuminates A Skeletal Domain in the broader discography. It illustrates exactly what Corpse are capable of, but also provides a distinct flavor. And it’s no surprise. A Skeletal Domain’s corrosive quality burns through for all to see.

#5. Torture (2012) – Hot on the heels of a streak of excellence, Torture shows no sign of slowing. This album is big, bold and brutal, with plenty of diversity. If the mid-paced crush of “Scourge of Iron” doesn’t hit the mark then “The Strangulation Chair’s” rabid devices definitely will. Most of all, Torture is just a joy to listen to. The album exemplifies a band in full swing and their synchronicity is addictive. A decade after its release and Torture is still as threatening as ever. It beats, breaks and burns its way toward the top of the list.

#4. Evisceration Plague (2009) – Accessibility is often a dirty word in extreme metal, but if Evisceration Plague is wrong then I don’t ever want to be right. After the blunt brutality of Kill, Cannibal Corpse decided to slightly change tact on the next album. Evisceration Plague doesn’t break as many bones as its predecessor but instead forges an impact with an array of barbed hooks that incessantly claw at the memory. Evisceration Plague is fluidly designed to facilitate just one more listen. These tasteful repetitions and melodies never fail to deliver Evisceration Plague straight to the bloodstream.

#3. Kill (2006) – After the departure of guitarist Jack Owens, Rob Barrett rejoined the band a full twenty years after his performance on Vile. The result is a relentless assault that revels in perpetual motion. Kill’s mission statement is exemplified in its blunt moniker. This is an album designed simply to bulldoze. If you don’t like “Death Walking Terror” then you don’t like riffs. Fisher arguably puts in his best vocal performance to date here, which just cements Kill’s status as apex predator. It exists in the discography like a voracious black hole. You’re not coming out alive.

#2. Bloodthirst (1999) – Fans of death metal love the genre for its brutality and sheer rabidity. Every once in a while an album comes along that effortlessly exudes those qualities with each baleful breath. Bloodthirst is feral. Every second is set on divorcing flesh from bone. Yet it would be wrong to reduce the record to mere hostility. There’s a lot going on here. The compositions make the most of a pseudo-technicality to deliver a genuine malevolence that is insistently memorable. Where “Unleashing the Bloodthirsty” makes the most of a compulsory churn, “The Spine Splitter” follows a venous pattern of frantic tapping. Ultimately, Bloodthirst feels like death metal incarnate. Everything great about the genre is distilled down into a single compound. A viscous black mass of blood, bone and soul. Such is its efficacy that only one album places above it…

#1. The Bleeding (1994) – In 1995, vocalist Chris Barnes quit Cannibal Corpse. Before he did so, he would participate in their greatest album. The Bleeding is a watershed moment for the band. The improved musicianship on Tomb of the Mutilated truly found its footing here, but the songwriting went nuclear. Every track on The Bleeding is excellent. The riffs feel hideously organic, like a unique anatomy evolved solely to chase the end of life. The staccato grooves of “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” are delicious, while the title track emphasizes the synergy of Jack Owen and Rob Barrett. Everything from the solos to the bass-heavy mix propels The Bleeding into greatness. Even some of Barnes’ more questionable vocals somehow fit here. The morbid songs are begging to be consumed, all decked out in a livid livery, which glances crimson and claret in the moonlight. The Bleeding isn’t just the best Cannibal Corpse album. It’s one of the best death metal albums of all time.

Eldritch Elitist

We all dealt with the mental impact of pandemic-imposed isolation in our own ways. Some people found new hobbies, others lost themselves in video games and many increased their rate of alcohol consumption. I did all of these things, while also listening to a fuck ton of death metal. In catching up with several classic death metal bands, I never expected Cannibal Corpse to become one of my favorite bands of all time. I always assumed them too primitive, even in their heyday, and that the success of “Hammer Smashed Face” granted them unreasonable legs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I learned in quick order, Cannibal Corpse is a wholly distinct band in the death metal canon, one with a virtually unmatched level of consistency thanks to an enormous catalog, almost all of which is good and half of which is brilliant. Since I learned the virtues of Cannibal Corpse at the age of 27, I am free from the shackles of nostalgia, and as such am pleased to present an utterly unclouded and objective ranking of one of the best discographies in death metal.1 

The Ranking

#15. Eaten Back to Life (1990) – With one foot rooted in thrash metal, Eaten Back to Life might have been a foundational pillar of early death metal had it released in 1987. But arriving three years after Scream Bloody Gore – and two years after Leprosy – it feels remarkably dated for its time. I mean, fuck, it released two weeks after The Key! On its own merits, the record is serviceable yet unremarkable, with an overreliance on lightspeed drumming leaving little room for effective riffs. A handful of tracks tease what Cannibal Corpse would eventually become (especially the relatively dynamic “Born in a Casket”), but otherwise, Eaten Back to Life only feels essential as Cannibal Corpse’s debut.

#14. Butchered at Birth (1991) – Butchered at Birth sounds like the original vision of Eaten Back to Life executed with greater focus. It still feels its age, with a few clunkers sounding like holdovers from Cannibal Corpse’s debut, but on average Butchered is a bit more dynamic, catchy, and adventurous. Tracks like “Meathook Sodomy,” “Under the Rotted Flesh,” and “Rancid Amputation” show notable growth, and sow the seeds of the band’s iconic sound. Yet even at 36 minutes, it feels half-stuffed with filler, and the crummy production doesn’t help its case. There’s a charm to this record’s simplicity to be sure, but I rarely find myself returning to it.

#13. Red Before Black (2017) – Despite a strong start that nearly tricks me into thinking it’s a better record than it is with every spin, Red Before Black is easily my least favorite of the Corpsegrinder era. It sounds distinct thanks to its borderline death thrash personality, yet the production is ugly and fatiguing, especially with a runtime ten to fifteen minutes too long. There are solid ideas buried in here (along with two great tracks in “Code of the Slashers” and “Hideous Ichor”), but as a whole, the execution feels confusingly sloppy for a band so reliably surefooted in their late-career state.

#12. Gore Obsessed (2002) – The first record where Cannibal Corpse failed to iterate, Gore Obsessed feels less like it’s spinning its wheels and more that it’s comfortable in its own skin. Not as singularly punishing or brutal as the preceding Bloodthirst, it does manage to be a bit catchier thanks to outright headbobbers like “Mutation of the Cadaver,” “Hatchet to the Head,” and “Pit of Zombies.” Still, it’s not difficult to see why this record is often overlooked. Much of its material feels merely above average, and being sandwiched between two superior records doesn’t help its memorability.

#11. Vile (1996) – Regarded as one of Cannibal Corpse’s worst for having to follow up The Bleeding (and due to people being objectively incorrect in preferring Chris Barnes over Corpsegrinder), Corpsegrinder’s debut is actually quite solid. Like Gore Obsessed, its main crime is its inconsistency. Songs like “Puncture Wound Massacre” revert to the base impulses that defined the band’s earliest records, yet others, like “Disfigured,” are excellent showcases of the balance of catchy grooves and technicality that would define the Corpsegrinder era. In fact, the record flies by just as fast as the best Corpsegrinder records, despite not being any shorter. It may lack the character of the albums that followed it, but it’s still a lot of fun.

#10. Violence Unimagined (2021) – Violence Unimagined might not be the most original or distinct record on this list, but it’s certainly one of the most focused. It eschews much of Cannibal Corpse’s signature technicality in favor of no-nonsense death metal. This stripped-down approach feels like the band in its purest form, with tracks like “Condemnation Contagion” excelling and straightforward, crushing grooves. Were it not for a final third that sees a sharp drop-off in quality, this would be an excellent companion album to the similarly groovy Evisceration Plague.

#9. Tomb of the Mutilated (1992) – One of the most commercially successful death metal albums of all time, Tomb of the Mutilated is, in the context of Cannibal Corpse’s discography, mid as fuck. Yet it’s still solid death metal, even without doing any one thing remarkably well. “Hammer Smashed Face” and “I Cum Blood” are so catchy as to be the closest that pure death metal will ever get to having bonafide hits. Other songs (especially “Post Mortal Ejaculation”) debut the band’s technical side that would go on to define their later output. This would serve as the baseline for Cannibal Corpse going forward, and it’s a classic for a reason.

#8. Bloodthirst (1999) – Formerly my third favorite, Bloodthirst is a record that I’ve come to realize lacks some of my favorite Cannibal Corpse traits. It is unrelenting in its brutality and at times shocking in its whiplashing technicality, but otherwise I find it a bit wanting for personality. It embodies the “all killer, no filler” mentality, without having any particularly standout tracks for me beyond its unforgettably grindy introduction, “Pounded Into Dust.” It could just use a bit more dynamism and melody to help it stand out.

#7. Gallery of Suicide (1998) – A sneaky grower, Gallery of Suicide is one of the catchiest records in Cannibal Corpse’s catalog. It certainly helps that it possesses one of the band’s most gripping openers in “I Will Kill You.” Yet it’s Gallery’s effortless pairing of accessible rhythms and unconventional melody that make it surprisingly replayable. Songs like “Headless” exhibit some of the weirdest melodies the band ever put to tape, while others, like “Centuries of Torment,” are among the most complex compositions they’ve ever penned. Corpse records are rarely this adventurous, and if they had pruned a couple of weaker cuts, it would have landed even higher on this list.

#6. The Wretched Spawn (2004) – Despite being a great record, The Wretched Spawn doesn’t get as much play as most records in my top ten. I’ve resolved to rectify this, because, despite something of a boilerplate opening third or so, it’s one of Cannibal Corpse’s most refreshingly diverse records. The Nile-like atmosphere of “Festering in the Crypt” and the mid-paced, narratively focused “Slain” are just two examples of songs that feel totally distinct in the band’s catalog. On top of that, the Neil Kernon production is one of the best in the band’s discography.

#5. Evisceration Plague (2009) – Evisceration Plague might be the slowest Cannibal Corpse record on average, and that’s more than okay because it’s catchy and groovy as fuck. There are still rippers to be sure, with the Cryptopsy-esque “Carnivorous Swarm” being one of the band’s most memorable songs. Yet its personality comes from its methodical numbers, with tracks like “A Cauldron of Hate” and “Skewered From Ear to Eye” involuntarily triggering maximum stank face. Its drum sound is one of the band’s ugliest (in a bad way), but otherwise, this record is bulletproof.

#4. Torture (2012) – Torture is widely regarded as the best of Cannibal Corpse’s 21st-century output, and it’s easy to see why: It’s an incredible crowd pleaser. From outrageously heavy stompers like “Scourge of Iron” and “As Deep As the Knife Will Go” to out-and-out ragers like “Demented Aggression” and “Rabid,” it’s a showcase of everything Cannibal Corpse does best. Torture is not the band’s most distinct or evolutionary record by any stretch, but it’s one of their most purely entertaining. With no filler tracks despite its relatively lengthy 44 minutes, it is also one of their most consistent.

#3. A Skeletal Domain (2014) – This is likely my hottest Cannibal Corpse take, and it absolutely shouldn’t be. A Skeletal Domain reintroduced thrash elements into the band’s sound at their strongest since Eaten Back to Life, while retaining all of the catchy, crushing brutality of their death metal core. As a result, it might just be the most fun Cannibal Corpse record, a stance bolstered by career-best songs like the irresistibly shout-along-able “Kill or Become” and the disorientingly heavy “Asphyxiate to Resuscitate.” This is the album I use to introduce newcomers to the band, so if you’re reading this list looking for a jumping-off point, look no further.

#2. The Bleeding (1994) – Four years after Eaten Back to Life made landfall behind its own time, The Bleeding was delivered as a new genre cornerstone. While its frequently yikes-inducing lyrics date it, everything else about it sounds fresh to this day. Tracks like “Pulverized” and “She Was Asking For It” (again, I say: yikes) forever cemented the Cannibal Corpse sound, but in general the record strikes an unforgettable balance of melody, grooves, and technicality. This grants it an atmosphere that feels distinct in the Corpse canon, with even the traditionally mediocre Chris Barnes feeling right at home. I’ve often dreamt of a version of The Bleeding with Corpsegrinder on vocals, but that might honestly ruin whatever black magic has been bottled here.

#1. Kill (2006) – Kill is perfect, and is one of my favorite death metal records of all time. I’ve talked at length about how the best Cannibal Corpse records offer a fine-tuned balance of heaviness, melody, and technicality, but Kill is the only one of the bunch where all those elements exist simultaneously for basically its entire runtime. It isn’t even relevant to go into detail on its best tracks, as just about anything here could serve as a highlight on any other Cannibal Corpse record. Beyond its sheer compositional excellence, Corpsegrinder delivers what I believe to be his absolute best performance, his gutturals somehow sounding even more inhuman than usual while also unleashing a barrage of uncharacteristic and unnerving screeches. The uncompromisingly brutal production by Erik Rutan wraps the package in a wonderfully grotesque bow, ensuring Kill is a record I could listen to every single day and never tire of.

Official AMG Ranking of Cannibal Corpse

The writers’ votes have been cast, counted, several fiddled and a number discounted due to their wrongness or the writer’s overrating habits, and it has produced this, The Official AMG Ranking of Cannibal Corpse:

#15. Eaten Back to Life (1990)

#14. Butchered at Birth (1991)

#13. Red Before Black (2017)

#12. Gore Obsessed (2002)

#11. Violence Unimagined (2021)

#10. Vile (1996)

#9. Tomb of the Mutilated (1992)

#8. Gallery of Suicide (1998)

#7. The Wretched Spawn (2004)

#6. Bloodthirst (1999)

#5. Evisceration Plague (2009)

#4. Torture (2012)

#3. A Skeletal Domain (2014)

#2. Kill (2006)

#1. The Bleeding (1994)

If you don’t know Cannibal Corpse, leave the Hall but, on your way out, make sure to check out this primer, picked by Ferrous Beuller and Eldritch Elitist.

Show 1 footnote

  1. So, you’re saying your Ranking is better and more accurate than Ferrous’ by all metrics because you say his Ranking is biased, subjective and shackled to nostalgic whim. That’s what you’re saying, right? – Carcharodon
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