90s Essentials – Volume One

In 2010 , the Last Rites staff compiled and released a series of ten features collectively detailing The 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 2000s, a comprehensive overview intended as something of a guide for the discerning metalhead in his / her pursuit of the absolute best records of the times. And now, ambitious devils that we are, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do the same thing for a different decade.

The 90s.

But first, a word about the process by which this list was compiled: these albums were nominated by the Last Rites staff. 359 albums were nominated. Then, they were voted down to a final 100. As with the 2000s Essentials feature, we allowed only one record per band to make the final list, so if your favorite Megadeth album isn’t the one below (and we all know Risk is your favorite), then please tell us about our colossal screw-up in the comments section at the end of each piece. Also, as with the 2000’s feature, these undeniable classics will be presented in ten installments of ten albums.

It’s important to note that this list isn’t ranked. These are lists of essential albums, presented in only the loosest of orders: When possible, each installment contains a representative from each year of the decade.

So now that you know roughly what we did and how we did it, let’s dive into the 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s:


If you’re perplexed as to why Dave Mustaine’s insane political paranoia is tolerated, listen to Rust In Peace. Not just Megadeth’s crowning achievement, it was the result of Mustaine’s musical riff-o-matic genius finally meeting its equal in shredder Marty Freidman. (That solo in “Tornado of Souls” should tell all.) “Holy Wars,” “Five Magics,” “Lucretia,” pick any track. All are a brilliant mix of progressive thrash, political-apocalyptic lyrics, and unabashed thrashing fun, and all have only gotten better with age. Undoubtedly one of the genre’s ultimate masterpieces.  [Capitol, 1990]

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On the heels of the classic Consuming Impulse‘s rounding out of the 1980s — and that’s still Pestilence‘s best effort, Testimony of the Ancients be damned — Martin Van Drunen returned with a vengeance, with a new band and with The Rack. Primitive, nasty and visceral, The Rack was the perfect companion to Van Drunen’s scorched throat. To this day, Erik Thomas’ American host family has nightmares about the title track and its epic, rumbling doomy climaxing riff that almost got him deported back to England for playing it at a loud volume ad infinitum.  [Century Media, 1991]

• • • • •


Folks understandably point to the creators of epic doom metal, Candlemass, when citing this sub-genre’s most valuable gems. But many enthusiasts argue that current C-Mass vocalist Robert Lowe’s other long-standing outfit, Solitude Aeturnus, actually holds a more consistent discography to date. And honestly, it’s a bloody and well-fought battle between an impressive stack of Solitude Aeturnus’ releases throughout the 90s, but the band’s trademark epic elements mixed with the stronger nod to mid-80s-era Fates Warning on Beyond the Crimson Horizon gives this record the win by a wizard’s nose.  [Roadrunner, 1992]

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It is common belief today that Cynic’s Focus is the start of progressive death metal. In the time and place of its creation – Florida, the 1990s – gods such as Death walked the Earth and the entire genre simply flourished. When Focus came out in 1993, its blend of jazz fusion and death metal was something new and innovative, and to this day, it remains uniquely recognizable while its exquisiteness remains a role model for many a (progressive) death metal band.  [Roadrunner, 1993]

• • • • •


With Need To Control, Brutal Truth moved further into experimental waters as they expanded their horizons – they’d incorporated noise collages and avant-garde-tinged riffage on their debut and stopgap EP, but Need To Control took it one step further, to where the FX-laden “Iron Lung” and “Crawlspace” sits neatly next to the leaden “Collapse” and “Ordinary Madness,” where the didgeridoo solo on “Godplayer” fits alongside the blistering cover of “Media Blitz” and more trad-grind “Choice Of A New Generation.” Mandatory grindcore. [Earache, 1994]

• • • • • 


The term ‘supergroup’ is extremely overused and abused, and it’s been rare throughout time that an assemblage of superb and/or (in)famous musicians has produced absolute essentialness. Combining individuals from four iconic bands in their own right, Louisiana-based five-piece Down dropped this debut onto the metal masses with raging success. Say what you will about Phil Anselmo – and not to take away anything whatsoever from the other terrific collaborators involved – but the man can fucking sing, and this album will go down as containing one of his most electrifying performances ever.  [Elektra, 1995]

• • • • •


Two simple words make Come My Fanatics indisputably worthy of hitting a list such as this: “Return” and “trip.” The opening 10-minute romp of “Return Trip” stands as one of the heaviest commencements to an album that’s ever been recorded. And anyone who disputes that claim should probably be caned in public and stuffed into a dirty dumpster. The rest of the album’s 50 minutes continue a prodigiously heavy path, but the band’s “fuzziness” takes more of the spotlight and soundly secures Come My Fanatics as one of the top records in stoner doom history.  [Rise Above, 1997]

• • • • •


Before ever setting the controls for the heart of the sun, Enslaved produced some of the purest scything black metal this side of Ragnarok. Eld consolidated the aggressive chill of Frost and Vikingligr Veldi with a refined sense of melody and pacing, coming off like the sweetest bastard child of prime Viking-era Bathory and Pure Holocaust-blasting Immortal. Look no further than the furious speed of “Glemt,” the warped boogie riffing of “Eld,” and the no-note wasted brilliance of album opener “793” for proof positive that Enslaved is better than you, forever.  [Osmose, 1997]

• • • • •


A song about music entitled “Travel” — that about sums up The Gathering’s sprawling and beautiful How to Measure a Planet? As much as albums attempt it, very few have succeeded as this one does at transporting the listener to vast otherworldly locales. Atmosphere, texture, and studio nuance were utilized to shape The Gathering’s grandiose mixture of goth metal, 70’s prog, and post-OK Computer alt-rock into a masterwork, not to mention the ultimate achievement of one of the world’s great voices in Anneke Van Giersbergen. This is the sound of true aural escapism.  [Century Media, 1998]

• • • • •


While one would be hard-pressed to come up with a more hackneyed approach to Immortal’s seminal fifth full-length than to fall all over its frost-bound grimness, the album doesn’t really give any other choice. Namely, the juncture where violent blizzards decimate gentle southwesters and the wintermoon (sic) dethrones the sun is weaved into the very fabric of these riffs and beats in a manner that’s unparalleled in all of music, thus creating not only the terminal wet dream of modern day Nordenskiölds but also Immortal’s finest hour and an undisputed classic of black fucking metal. [Osmose, 1999]

• • • • • 

Ten down. Ninety to go. Click here for Volume 2.

Posted by Last Rites


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