Spurred by the abomination that was Metal Hammer's list, I decided to do one on my own.
In no particular order:
SEPULTURA: MORBID VISIONS
Absolutely raw and rough around the edges, this is an album that had a very large influence on the formation of death and black metal. It is completely unlike anything the band did afterwards. With an impressively evil atmosphere and some of the most beastly vocals Max Cavalera ever uttered, this is a very chaotic listen. The frenetic intensity of the album is its greatest quality. Sepultura refined their craft quite a bit since this, but this still remains my favorite album by the band.
DISSECTION: THE SOMBERLAIN
Dissection is a group that surpassed their debut album with their sophomore album, but that does not make their debut any less impressive. The band developed a feel for writing cold and merciless melodic black metal and that feel was evident even from their first album. The drumming is the standout on this album as the drum patterns constantly change but never vary their power. As with other groups, Dissection eventually smoothed out some of their rough edges, but they did keep their intensity, particularly on their follow-up.
SWALLOW THE SUN: THE MORNING NEVER CAME
The Swallow the Sun debut was one of my first real experiences with death/doom and I was simply blown away. The album cover caught my eye and I had to pick it up immediately and I was glad I did. Swallow the Sun does somber and yet menacing music extremely well. Their cover of Candlemass's "Solitude" is on par with the original version. I have said it before and I will say it again, the cover art on this album perfectly matches the music.
EMPEROR: IN THE NIGHTSIDE ECLIPSE
The bands of the Norwegian Second Wave of Black Metal almost to a band released great debut albums. Mayhem's debut, Immortal's debut, and Satyricon's debut were all strongly considered for this list, but I ultimately picked just this one. Emperor was always much more grandiose and musical than their countrymen, and this debut is one example. While other bands strived for brutality through simplicity, Emperor tried to find the beautiful in the very ugly. Both sides are very evident in this release, which still remains one of my all-time favorite black metal albums.
IMMOLATION: DAWN OF POSSESSION
Like Emperor for black metal, Immolation's debut is one of a number of great death metal debuts in the early 1990's. Immolation is a band who really helped death metal distinguish itself from thrash metal with their bass heavy slow and lumbering riffs and the deep guttural roaring vocal style. Immolation was a fairly early occult death metal band from the same New York scene that spawned Incantation and Cannibal Corpse among others, but Immolation's debut was more impressive.
Deicide rose out of the Tampa, Florida death metal scene and were immediately one of the most frightening death metal bands going. Their lyrics were unapologetically Anti-Christian and often invoked the devil and all sorts of other hellish demons. In addition, their music was fast and loud. Of course this was all eventually revealed to be a big joke, that Glen Benton has a, let's say interesting sense of humor. Their first two albums are excellent pieces of fast-paced, evil death metal.
MORBID ANGEL: ALTARS OF MADNESS
One of the very first death metal groups, Morbid Angel's debut was completely unlike anything ever heard before. Morbid Angel took the speed and intensity of thrash metal and added occult lyrics and growling vocals. This was one of the first death metal albums and a definite influence on a lot of bands that would arrive in later years. This is also still one of my favorite albums by the seminal death metal band, possibly only surpassed by Covenant.
Speaking of bands who did something no one had really ever heard before, here is Opeth. Opeth started out as a death metal band with a little bit of an interesting twist, they incorporated a lot of 1970's progressive rock elements to their music. They were a little bit long-winded and this album was still something of a work in progress, but the ideas were definitely there and they were definitely fresh. Opeth just needed to build on them some more.
AMON AMARTH: ONCE SENT FROM THE GOLDEN HALL
With this album, Amon Amarth began their long career of releasing basically the same album. This one is a little bit further along the death metal lines than some of their later releases, and it is a little heavier as well, but other than that Amon Amarth has made a career out of re-releasing this album. Which really is not as problematic as one might think. That is how truly great this album really is. It is hard to pick a favorite album by this band, the debut is certainly a worthy choice.
SUFFOCATION: EFFIGY OF THE FORGOTTEN
Suffocation rose out of the same New York scene as Immolation, but their music was decidedly different. Suffocation incorporated a lot more technical elements to their sound and also emphasized brutal breakdowns. Their influence can be felt in slam death, brutal death metal, and technical death metal. All three subgenres owe a massive debt of gratitude to this release. Suffocation has continued with the sound that they developed, but this is still probably their best.