90s Essentials – Volume Two

Jumping right back in, folks: Here we have Volume 2 of MetalReview’s Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s. (Click here for Vol. 1) With some bitchin’ buzzsaw action, a thrash classic, a nice reminder that industrial was once a thriving and creative force, and a fuzzy stoner classic, Volume 2 shows just how brilliant heavy metal can be across such widely differing styles. Nowhere is this more apparent than within Katatonia’s entry, which shows a young and brilliant band creating a classic in a style they would immediately abandon. Daring.

There’s plenty more where these came from…


Largely because of Glen Benton’s vehemently anti-Christian lyrics, larger-than-life persona, and his infamous branded inverted cross, parents, media and the press were suddenly aware of death metal and how hazardous it was to Midwestern American kids. Underneath all the attention was a virulent, compact, and often deadly 33-minute death metal album. Pure, unadulterated speed and malice — bolstered by vitriolic lyrics and demonic vocals — Deicide’s debut set the bar for death metal ferocity, a standard that’s still in place today. And what’s scary is that they may have topped it with Legion, but Deicide certainly set the precedent. [Roadrunner, 1990]

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Listen, there’s not much that hasn’t been already said about the band and album that started a genre and sound. And while the band has endured some serious ups and downs since their truly landmark debut, there’s no questioning that Left Hand Path is responsible for ‘the Swedish sound’ and is the benchmark for pretty much all Swedish death metal albums, period, if not for all death metal albums that came after it. Truly legendary. ‘Nuff said. [Earache, 1990]

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Overkill had already begun construction of their metal legacy when they dropped sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Horrorscope. A furious fist to the face of the grunge movement, the Wrecking Crew’s fifth full length is the perfect storm of rippin’ riffs, fiery lead work, and indomitable hooks. The departure of standout shredder Bobby Gustafson following The Years of Decay predicted real change and threatened decline, but guitarists Merritt Gant and Rob Cannavino turned out to be aces, helping in no small measure to forge from latent greatness true heavy metal eminence. [Atlantic, 1991]

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Subtitled “The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs” (although actually titled a series of Greek characters), Psalm 69 did more of the former for industrial luminaries Ministry. The band’s commercial breakthrough, Psalm 69 scored MTV support for “N.W.O.,” “Just One Fix” and the psychobilly groove of “Jesus Built My Hot Rod.” One of the cornerstones of industrial metal, and a clear and obvious ancestor to the electro-metal that popped up everywhere only a few years later. [Sire / Warner Brosˆ, 1992]

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If you rode the dragon toward the crimson eye on Sleep’s reunion tour last year, you don’t need me to tell you that there’s nothing in the world to match the mind-throbbing, body-grooving power of three dudes jazzed on Sabbath and giant platefuls of weed (see especially the “Electric Funeral” tribute/winking-rip-off mid-section of “The Druid”). One of best and most influential stoner doom records ever smoked onto wax, Sleep’s Holy Mountain is also a smoothly-flowing organic whole. There is no peak to this mountain, only a glorious plateau of soul-warming doom, so climb on.  [Earache, 1993]

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Alongside In Flames and At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity stood at the top of the melodeath movement, and their defining moment remains this 1995 sophomore release. All the traits of the “Gothenburg sound” are here – Iron Maiden-indebted guitar leads, catchy melodies atop sharp riffage… Before post-millennium emo-metalcore douchenozzles absconded with Gothenburg’s signature style, and before every eyeliner-sporting and star-tattooed band was adrift in a sea of Tranquillity, The Gallery was (and is) a shining example of melodic death metal perfection. [Osmose, 1995]

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By the time Discouraged Ones dropped two years later, all vestiges of Katatonia‘s truly deathly roots had vanished, leaving Brave Murder Day as a unique transitional touchstone. Opeth‘s Mikael Akerfeldt lends the band some of his blackest vocals ever put to tape, but the album’s real draw is the way the band lifts the structure of doom/death songs onto a framework of largely clean, depressive rock/doom tones. Later albums would see Katatonia perfect a streamlined, maximum emotional impact version of grey-skied metal, but Brave Murder Day remains a compelling monument to the unwieldy sprawl of sorrow in full flower. [Avantgarde, 1996]

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Terje “Valfar” Bakken may be the most unsung hero in the world of black metal. Known for his ability to fuse Norwegian folk lyrics and instrumentation into his music, Valfar’s solo project finally took off at the close of the decade. Unlike many other artists who died in their twenties, Valfar suffered a fate truly tragic as he was found frozen to death in the Sogndal valley during the heart of winter. Windir helped both conclude an era of extreme metal as well as open another, and should go down in history as one of the most fearless acts to ever shape its genre. [Head Not Found, 1999]

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Rarely does one enter the party with such a pummeling stomp as Nile did with their debut full-length. While perhaps a more rudimentary discharge and lacking in the epic virtues when set side by side with the band’s latter titles, this entree offers a smash-and-grab raid into atavistic Egyptian barbarity shadowing beneath the cornerstone of the civilization. Sophistry and composure be damned, because here we have the perfect soundtrack to our inevitable surge towards chaos. Just like the rubric suggests: essential.  [Relapse, 1998]

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Surprise, we’re not really fans of the overuse of synths and keys, but there’s just something about Hatebreeder that screams loudest, “The Devil played a keyboard!” Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho and company slashed and burned their way through thirty-eight minutes of zip-locked and airtight melopowerdeath complete with neo-classical fringe. A fierce whirling dervish widdled by early-twenty-somethings with a jaw-dropping amount of talent and a yearning to pair their debut, Something WIld, with a late onset of puberty from below. When all is said and done, Hatebreeder is a great guitar album. No matter how high up in the mix those synths got pushed, the hot steel of the strings up against that cold staccato riffing put the keytar-envy through the cheddar shredder.  [Spinefarm, 1999]

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Twenty down; eighty to go…  Stay tuned, kids… And keep your eyes peeled for the next in our series of The Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s: The Companion Interviews… Megadeth was last week — who will be this weeks’ victim?


Posted by Last Rites


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