Technical Death Metal

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Technical/progressive (or tech/prog) death metal is considered a legitimate genre by some (or even two legitimate genres), while others argue that it is a pseudo-genre. Bands included in this genre take emphasize technicality in their music, in the form of complex riffs and/or complex song structures, while others apply the ethos of progressive music more broadly without straying from their basic death metal sound. Death, Cynic and Atheist are considered central bands in the establishment of tech/prog death metal. Some bands, like Necrophagist, Obscura, and Braindrill, emphasize technique in their style and are considered technical death metal acts, while others, such as Opeth, Neuraxis, Sectu, and Nocturnus are considered primarily progressive death metal. Sometimes, jazz death metal is listed as a separate subgenre and comprises artists who incorporate elements from fusion jazz into their death metal style, such as Atheist, Cynic and Pestilence on “Spheres”. Given that brutal death metal bands tend to emphasize technique and compositional complexity, many brutal death metal bands, such as Suffocation and Hate Eternal, are also categorized as technical death metal bands. Some tech/prog death metal bands are so progressive on some releases that these are considered progressive metal rather than death metal, as is the case of some Atheist, Opeth and Cynic releases, that they are filed under progressive metal in the MMA rather than under death metal.

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technical death metal top albums

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DEATH Symbolic Album Cover Symbolic
DEATH
4.47 | 180 ratings
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DEATH The Sound of Perseverance Album Cover The Sound of Perseverance
DEATH
4.39 | 139 ratings
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GORGUTS Colored Sands Album Cover Colored Sands
GORGUTS
4.45 | 30 ratings
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DEATH Individual Thought Patterns Album Cover Individual Thought Patterns
DEATH
4.35 | 129 ratings
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ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence Album Cover Unquestionable Presence
ATHEIST
4.32 | 81 ratings
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BEYOND CREATION The Aura Album Cover The Aura
BEYOND CREATION
4.43 | 18 ratings
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NOCTURNUS The Key Album Cover The Key
NOCTURNUS
4.37 | 25 ratings
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CRYPTOPSY None So Vile Album Cover None So Vile
CRYPTOPSY
4.33 | 38 ratings
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NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest Album Cover Those Whom the Gods Detest
NILE
4.32 | 41 ratings
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AUGURY Fragmentary Evidence Album Cover Fragmentary Evidence
AUGURY
4.35 | 22 ratings
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NILE What Should Not be Unearthed Album Cover What Should Not be Unearthed
NILE
4.34 | 24 ratings
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NILE Annihilation of the Wicked Album Cover Annihilation of the Wicked
NILE
4.26 | 50 ratings
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technical death metal Music Reviews

NOCTURNUS AD Unicursal

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Unicursal" is the second full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Nocturnus AD. The album was released through Profound Lore Records in May 2024. It´s the successor to "Paradox" from May 2019, so it´s been five years betweeen the two album releases. There haven´t been any lineup changes, so the lineup who recorded "Paradox" is intact on "Unicursal".

Although the current incarnation of the band formed in 2013, drummer/lead vocalist Mike Browning has a long history in US death metal, being the original drummer and vocalist in Morbid Angel. After leaving Morbid Angel Browning formed Nocturnus and performed on their two classic albums "The Key" (1990) and "Thresholds" (1992) before being fired from the band he co-founded. He shortly formed Nocturnus AD in 1990 but changed the band name to After Death. In the period 2000-2013 After Death released quite a few demos (all material from the demos can be found on the 2007 compilation album "Retronomicon"), but in 2013 Browning opted to change the name back to Nocturnus AD. He always felt that Nocturnus was his creation and he wanted to carry on the legacy of the band, but since he had lost the rights to the name, he added the AD to avoid legal action from his previous bandmates who still owned the name. When playing live Nocturnus AD also play Nocturnus songs, so in effect (since Nocturnus haven´t been active since 2002), this is the closest you get to the real deal.

"Unicursal" is a concept album continuing the sci-fi story of Dr. Magus which was initiated on "The Key" and continued on "Paradox" (a sci-fi story mixing anti-christian themes, with futuristic sci-fi themes, and fantasy mystical themes). Stylistically the material on "Unicursal" naturally continue the sci-fi themed old school death metal featuring prominent use of keyboards, which the band also played on "Paradox". Browning is a raw shouting/semi-growling type vocals, and while his vocals aren´t the most powerful death metal vocals I´ve encountered and his staccato delivery can get a bit one-dimensional and tedious, he has a personal style which is more than you can say about a lot of other death metal vocalists.

While the core of the compositions is more or less thrash oriented old school death metal the dominant use of keyboards and the blistering lead guitar work are some of the features which set Nocturnus AD apart from other death metal acts with the same base elements. The music on "Unicursal" isn´t terribly different from what Nocturnus put out in the early 90s, but I guess that´s the whole point. The novelty of having a permanent keyboard player in a death metal band wore off a long time ago, but that doesn´t mean the addition of keyboards to Nocturnus AD´s death metal music isn´t effective and atmosphere enhancing, because it certainly is. To my ears the keyboards have at times maybe become a bit too dominant and provide the music with an epic symphonic feeling, that´s a bit generic if you compare them to how the keyboards where used on the original Nocturnus albums, where they either provided an eerie effect or even worked as a lead instrument.

"Unicursal" is a well produced release, sounding clear and powerful, and featuring a lot of details. Producer Jarrett Pritchard has done a great job here. So upon conclusion "Unicursal" is another good quality death metal release from Nocturnus AS, cementing their return to the scene and showing the world that they still have lots to give. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PESTILENCE Levels of Perception

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Levels of Perception" is the tenth full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Pestilence. The album was released through Agonia Records in April 2024. It features twelve re-recordings of tracks which have appeared on some of the band´s earlier releases. Not all preceding albums are represented (there are no re-recordings of tracks from "Malleus Maleficarum" (1988) or from "Spheres" (1994)), but all other Pestilence studio albums are represented with at least one track each...

...and the tracklist is up for debate. It seems a bit odd to me, why Pestilence would chose to re-record no less than four tracks from their last album "Exitivm". Re-recordings are usually done to show how a current version of a group plays older classic material, but it seems Pestilence had another vision with "Levels of Perception". "Consuming Impulse" (1989) and "Testimony of the Ancients" (1991) are represented by two tracks each (I guess they didn´t dare leave out "Out of the Body") but that´s the only pre-reformation material featured on "Levels of Perception". It´s not that Pestilence more current material isn´t decent, but it just seems a bit strange to re-record material from 2021 on a 2024 release.

When that is said, there are unfortunately much, much worse things to say about "Levels of Perception" which is through and through a horrible release. I can´t call it anything else than an abomination and a terrible misstep in the discography of Pestilence. The material is what it is, but the performances and some of the new arrangements are tame and uninspired. Honestly it almost made me cry listening to the re-recordings of "Twisted Truth" and "Out of the Body", which are two of my absolute favorite Pestilence tracks, both of which are butchered here (Patrick Mameli how could you?).

But the performances and the weak vocals from Mameli aren´t even the worst here...it´s the production values. The drums were recorded live at one studio in 2021 and everything else was overdubbed at other studios during the next couple of years. Many artists have made live recordings of drums in the studio and have gotten great results from it, but that can´t be said about the drums on "Levels of Perception", which sound like they were recorded at a rehearsal space (and not at a studio like they are) using an old fashioned four-track tape recorder. This is demo quality sound production values. And it´s not just the drums. The guitars feature an odd high end tone which is grating on the ears, Mameli´s voice is distorted and you can´t always make out the words he sings (which usually isn´t an issue on Pestilence albums), and the bass is completely disconnected from the rest of the instruments in the mix...and bass player Joost van der Graaf often sounds like he is playing another song than the rest of the members of the band.

A pretty harsh critique, which I´m not happy to deliver since Pestilence have long been some of my heroes, but I have to call it like I see it. Honesty and full disclosure. Pestilence have some work to do, to drag themselves back from this disaster. Their next album better be the best album they have released since reforming in 2008 or they may find themselves a fan or two short. You don´t come back from something like this without some careful consideration and reflection in terms of what went wrong, and what should we never do again...a 1.5 star (30%) rating is warranted. I´m tempted to give an even lower rating, but I´m trying to be fair and at least give Pestilence some sort of credit for existing, but there really isn´t much to give them credit for after listening to this album.

CEREMONY OF SILENCE Oútis

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The procession of technical death metal marches on well into the 21st century and as the years cede to decades the incremental changes seem to continue to ratchet up the musical form into almost unrecognizable amalgamations of sound when compared to the nascent old school death metal acts that are now well over 30 years in the past. In recent years the trend to meld dissonant abstract death metal riffing with overtly blackened mood setting embellishments has become the new norm in death metal evolution and there is certainly no shortage of bands jumping on this technically demanding bandwagon that was popularized by Gorguts’ 1998 masterwork “Obscura” and slowly but surely has been taken to new extremes ever since.

CEREMONY OF SILENCE is one of the newer kids on the block spawned in the midlands section of Slovakia in the city of Zvolen. Formed in 2015 this mere duo of Vilozof (guitar, bass, vocals) and Svjatogor (drums) has mastered the seemingly impossible task of balancing long abstract technical workouts with grace and implements just as much atmospheric elegance as it does delivering the relentless pummelation of dissonant death metal bombast. Having studied well at the University of Claustrophobic Cacophony with a PHD with degrees in everything Ulcerate, Sunless, Artificial Brain and Howls of Ebb, CEREMONY OF SILENCE released its own slice of technical disso-death in the form of OÚTIS (a term that means “Nobody” in Ancient Greek) which pummeled fans of the style into submission in early 2019.

What CEREMONY OF SILENCE delivers on OÚTIS is an atonal brutality run amok with the now common abstract death metal antics proposed by Gorguts and Portal and taken far afield by newer acts like Ulcerate, Ad Nauseam, Pyrrhon and Mitochondria. Adding to the bleakness are those infamous spidery guitar sweeps brought to the greater metal world’s attention by none other than the black metal legends Deathspell Omega and of course it wouldn’t be a proper disso-death technical marathon without the buried anguished grunts and growls delivered amidst the incessant atmospheric turmoil. By dishing out ample doses of cyclical repetition amongst the oft aimless drifting throughout OÚTIS, CEREMONY OF SILENCE does an excellent job of evoking the abstract din of classic Incantation while keeping an alienating reference to the modern trends of death metal that your parents just wouldn’t fully understand.

OÚTIS truly delivers a product of outstanding proportions with the proper ingredients required for a modern disso-death classic yet falls just short of cutting the ties with the pioneers that proceeded and the obvious influences that coalesced into every brutal metal workouts and abstract atmospheric swirly-fest however CEREMONY OF SILENCE proves without a doubt they are worthy of entering the sacred chambers where only the most skilled and technically adept can craft a veritable 21st century excursion into one of metal’s most alienating sectors. The album showcases an excellent balancing act with accessible rhythmic chunks alternating with the less tangible nature of dissonant meandering. While Vilozof does well by serving as guitarist, bassist and grower-in-chief, it’s really the percussive fortitude of skin slayer Svjatogor who animates this album with nuanced precision.

All in all there are little or no complaints about the seven tracks and 35 minute playing time of CEREMONY OF SILENCE’s thus far sole contribution to the world of tech disso-death however the nagging comparisons to the aforementioned bands do ring true to the point that the blurry abstractness of the atmospheric uncertainties cross over into the realms of identifiable idiosyncrasies which CEREMONY OF SILENCE doesn’t quite muster up at this stage. While an excellent slice of technical abstractness fortified by the most competent bouts of proficiency, ultimately the band comes off as an abstract blur of originality where one disso-death band bleeds into another. A surge of creative infusion would go a long way but having said that it is of little doubt that this masterful duo has conjured up some magnificent sounds that showcase the unadulterated spirit of modern extreme metal. An excellent ominous entry into the ever-growing field of disso-death technical wizardry and one that will surely please fans of this wild raucous style of metal.

THE FACELESS In Becoming a Ghost

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"In Becoming a Ghost" is the fourth full-length studio album by US, California based death metal act The Faceless. The album was released through Sumerian Records in December 2017. It´s the successor to "Autotheism" from August 2012. Only band founder/guitarist/keyboard player/clean- and vocoder vocalist Michael Keene remains from the lineup who recorded the predecessor and by this point it´s 100% clear that The Faceless is Keene´s baby. Further proof of that is that he has also recorded the bass parts on "In Becoming a Ghost" and is responsible for producing, engineering, mixing, and mastering "In Becoming a Ghost" at his own Keene Machine Studios. So although Ken Sorceron (vocals), Justin McKinney (rhythm guitars), and Chason Westmoreland (drums) are credited for performing on "In Becoming a Ghost", I´m not so sure that it´s a permanent band constellation.

While The Faceless first two albums ("Akeldama" from 2006 and "Planetary Duality" from 2008) were both scorching technical and quite brutal death metal albums with a progressive edge, "Autotheism" took the progressive element of the band´s music a bit further and left behind some of the most brutal parts of the band´s music, and that tendency is continued on "In Becoming a Ghost" which is a highly progressive and technical death metal album, featuring more clean vocals than any The Faceless releases before it and the album also features a lot of excursions into progressive metal territories in terms of unconventional song structures and songwriting ideas. This is still to some extent death metal and at times still pretty extreme music, but the extremity of the band´s music is often overshadowed by the adventurous songwriting ideas and melodic and atmospheric approach to their compositions.

"In Becoming a Ghost" is well produced, featuring a powerful, detailed, and clear sound, which suits the material well. So upon conclusion it´s another high quality release from The Faceless. If you enjoyed the more progressive inclined songwriting on "Autotheism" over the technical and brutal death metal of "Akeldama" and "Planetary Duality", then "In Becoming a Ghost" should most certainly be right down your alley. Compared to "Autotheism" I´d even say that The Faceless master this style better on "In Becoming a Ghost", which to my ears is a more coherrent release (including the cover version of "Shake the Disease" by Depeche Mode). The one feature bringing my rating down a bit is the clean vocals. They aren´t out of tune or badly performed but Keene simply doesn´t have a very interesting or distinct sounding voice. It´s like listening to the clean vocals on Enslaved´s releases. They´re decently performed and quite inoffensive, but they don´t really add much to the music. They are just there and it´s hard not to think that the music would have had more impact with a stronger vocalist performing the clean vocal parts. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

THE FACELESS Planetary Duality

Album · 2008 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Planetary Duality" is the second full-length studio album by US, California based death metal act The Faceless. The album was released through Sumerian Records in November 2008 (reissued by Lifeforce Records in February 2009). It is a self-produced release produced by guitarist/clean vocalist Micheal Keene. Drummer Lyle Cooper has been added to the lineup since the debut album "Akeldama" (2006) (which was mostly recorded using session drummers) but the rest of the lineup who recorded the debut album remains.

The music style featured on the album is technical death metal. It´s both pretty brutal and melodic at the same time. The guitar riffs are sharp and fast with lots of precise and technically complex drumming to go along. The vocals are mostly deep brutal growls (a few higher pitched screams too) but there are occasional clean/vocoder vocals featured too which is great for the variation of the album. One of my favorite features on the album are the many melodic guitar solos though. Very skillfully executed and an oasis of beauty in the midst of the brutal fast-paced and busy death metal. The vocoder parts provide the music with some futuristic/sci-fi sounding atmospheric moments which are another part of the music providing it with variation.

The album opens with the short and brutal "Prison Born" and quickly continues with the more progressive "The Ancient Covenant". That song is simply amazing technical death metal. Powerful and fast with some great guitar motifs. "Shape Shifters" is a short instrumental breather before "Coldy Calculated Design" begins and we´re once again treated with a fast-paced and technical death metal track. "Xeno Christ" is a bit different and heavier but still with faster parts. Great varied song that one. "Sons of Belial" is the song with most obvious use of clean vocals even though those vocals actually only occur twice in the song and only for a few seconds at a time. I didn´t care much for the clean vocals the first many times I listened to the album but I´ve come to appreciate them a little more with repeated listens of the album.

"Legion of the Serpent" is next and it´s the most melodic song on the album, featuring some interesting melodic breaks. It´s a great song and very important for the diversity of the album (the fast-paced neo-classical parts remind me of The Black Dahlia Murder). "Planetary Duality I : Hideous Revelation" is an intro to "Planetary Duality II : A Prophecies Fruition". The short intro track has some sci-fi samples which really creates the right atmopshere before the going into "Planetary Duality II : A Prophecies Fruition" which is another excellent technical death metal track.

The musicianship is outstanding on all posts. This is very complex and demanding music and The Faceless are a very tight playing unit. Add to that a clear, powerful, and detailed sound production and you have a high quality release on your hands. It´s like listening to the US hybrid version of Obscura and Necrophagist, although The Faceless don´t sound like a close. But there are a lot of similarities.

So upon conclusion The Faceless hit something special on "Planetary Duality". They hinted on greatness on "Akeldama", but they´ve developed their style a lot since the debut album, and by incorporating a lot of different influences and musical elements and songwriting ideas to their compositions (technical death metal, brutal death metal, progressive metal, even black metal), "Planetary Duality" is a both varied and intriguing technical death metal release from start to finish. They keep the listener on his/her toes throughout the album but still maintain a sort of accessibility that you don´t get often when listening to highly technical death metal releases. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

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