Dying Fetus have a special place in the annals of extreme music, and rightly so: with a name like that, it’s fucking bonkers that they were able to play even one concert without getting shut down by religious zealots, much less become a staple of gigantic tours like Summer Slaughter and Metal Alliance. Indeed, the Maryland-based band has spent the last 25 years cementing their position as death metal royalty, and nowhere do they make their case more succinctly than on their third LP, Destroy the Opposition (inducted into our Hall of Fame in July 2012; you can purchase the issue here).
There are many reasons why this album rules, but one in particular stands (severed) head and shoulders above them all: the riffs. Sure, most death metal lives and dies by the strength of its riffs, but there’s something particularly unique about Destroy the Opposition that elevates it past its early 2000s guttural slam-a-thon brethren. Slick, catchy and heavy as fuck, this is death metal that was written to be remembered. And here we are, 16 years after the fact. Ranking these songs from “worst to best” is an egregious practice worthy of a CM Punk-level beatdown, but let’s do it anyway!
8. Born in Sodom
I’ve always thought the beginning of this song would make a good Iron Maiden tune if you slowed it down by like 200 bpm. Kevin Talley’s fills are insane throughout the 4:48 runtime, and you gotta love that Immolation-style solo at 3:00. Also, the dual guitar and bass sweep picking part at 0:59 (and again at 1:57) is ridiculous and makes me self-conscious about my practice regimen. Fuck this list already, all these songs rule.
7. Epidemic of Hate
This song starts with a pretty generic slam riff, but instead of following along with a caveman beat, Talley elects to morph into an octopus and lay down one of the most ridiculous fill sections on the entire album. I bet he did it in one take, too. There’s another “death metal Iron Maiden” part at 3:28, and the whole thing is littered with hooky, mid-paced riffs that burrow their way deep into your gray matter and can only be removed with sizable doses of Imagine Dragons.
6. In Times of War
There are plenty of noteworthy riffs throughout “In Times of War,” but when the breakdown that happens at 0:49 is that fucking good, everything else just kind of fades into the background. Except for Talley’s blasting…that shit is undeniable no matter what kind of breakdown trance you’re in. Extra points for the Dr. Strangelove reference in the lyrics.
5. Justifiable Homicide
When you have a drummer as good as Kevin Talley in your band, you’d be foolish not to let him lead off at least one song with a drum fill that essentially functions as a mini solo. Dying Fetus’ mantra during the Destroy the Opposition recording process was probably, “Go for it, dude.” Anyway, this song has a shitload of awesome riffs (the ones at 2:25 and 4:54 are particularly nasty), and I love that little interlude between Talley and bassist Jason Netherton that starts at 3:10.
4. For Us or Against Us
The opening riff in this song probably informed the careers of 500 tech-death bands, so that’s pretty impressive. That said, no amount of stop-start noodling could ever match the visceral intensity of Talley’s fill section that starts at 1:24. It’s not a show-off thing either—it’s right in time with the preceding riff and serves as its own musical bridge to the next section. The dude plays drum riffs, basically. Unreal.
3. Pissing in the Mainstream
When I was 17, I made a compilation CD of the most br00tal songs I could think of. My intention was to laugh in the face of terrestrial radio as I piloted my Mercury Cougar down the highway, with Cannibal Corpse and Deicide providing my soundtrack. The title of that compilation? What else but “Pissing in the Mainstream.” See what I did there? Anyway, this song somehow manages to cram 697 amazing riffs into less than two minutes and I’ll always be jealous of that. Play the breakdown at 1:15 at my funeral.
2. Destroy the Opposition
Whether bands want to admit it or not, there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with a title track. It’s the metric by which some listeners judge the rest of the material, and a wrong move could spell disaster for the album as a whole. Thankfully for Dying Fetus, “Destroy the Opposition” is five minutes of death metal perfection. Sweep picking, ferocious back-and-forth vocals, blinding blast beats, colossal breakdowns (4:43, are you fucking kidding me?!?)…this is what the genre is all about. Destroy!
1. Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses)
I had a teacher in high school who told me I should always put my best foot forward. Surely she listened to Dying Fetus on a regular basis. How else would she have learned that valuable lesson if not by pushing play on Destroy the Opposition and being absolutely pummeled by the opening salvo of “Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses)”? If this isn’t the best lead-off death metal riff of all time, it’s certainly one of the most instantly identifiable. And after those first 30 mind-blowing seconds, there are still five minutes of crushing brutality to take in! What the fuck are Netherton, John Gallagher and John Voyles doing at 1:40? How is it possible that the breakdown at 2:25 leads into an even bigger breakdown at 2:55? These are the questions that Dying Fetus presents to us. The best way to answer? Listen, headbang, air drum, repeat.