90s Essentials – Volume Three

So here we are, back for more with Volume 3 of MetalReview’s 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s. (If you haven’t been keeping up, click here for Vol. 1 and here for Vol. 2.) This week starts out doomy; then it picks up speed and drops back into the sludge before taking a turn for the epic and the black, closing with two very different works of staggering compositional complexity. And right in the middle lies the most commercially successful metal album of all time, as controversial an entry on these pages as could possibly be…


Boosted by the allure of a surprising switch to Rick Rubin’s Def American Records and a sound more keenly focused on bluesier rock, album number four from Trouble righteously reaffirmed the band’s strong doom hand after 1987’s somewhat disappointing Run to the Light. All the bases were covered here as the band masterfully mixed their traditional doom precepts with the notably beefy heft of “Psychotic Reaction”, the thrashiness of “R.I.P.” and “E.N.D.”, and the bluesier atonement in “A Sinner’s Fame” and “The Misery Shows”. [Def American, 1990]

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Immolation’s catalogue is one of the most groundbreaking in the death metal genre, and while Dawn of Possession is the most primitive of the band’s albums, it was still conceived at a level far above most of the death metal outfits populating the scene in 1991. Complex musicianship, unorthodox song structures, and a truly malevolent atmosphere are all expected hallmarks of the band’s sound nowadays, but Dawn of Possession’s old school charm and outstanding collection of timeless songs make it the definitive Immolation release of the 90’s. [Roadrunner, 1991]

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One of the most controversial Metallica releases — as the album that split the fanbase in two and garnered new fans for the band — it is perhaps the last album in Metallica’s list of actual achievements before their decade-and-a-half-long streak of mediocre albums that was only recently inverted by Death Magnetic. Containing such hits as “Enter Sandman” and classics like “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters,” it’s as the mainstream heavy metal album that it earns a spot in the Essential 90s listing. [Elektra/Vertigo/Universal, 1991]

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Ideally, the cover of every Crowbar album would be a picture of Kirk Windstein; never has a man looked more like the music he produces. Crowbar defines sludge, thicker than frozen molasses yet deceptively melodic, with Windstein’s signature vocals seemingly recorded from the toilet seat. Classics such as “All I Had (I Gave)” and “Existence Is Punishment” help to keep this 1993 self-titled affair the band’s most holistic and time-honored, proving that all these years later HEAVY is still synonymous with Crowbar. [Pavement Music, 1993]

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Storm of the Light’s Bane contains some of the richest and most sorrowful melodies to ever come from a guitar. Nothing quite resonates like the recording of Jon Nödtveidt’s indistinguishable guitar/vocal ensembles, and the chilly, frostbitten atmosphere that they create in the listener’s ears. With truly unforgettable riffs and depressing acoustic passages, Dissection‘s earlier works are as perfect a gateway into the world of black metal as any. [Nuclear Blast, 1995]

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Nemesis Divina might as well have been titled “None More Regal.” This is Satyr and Frost (plus a smurfed-out Nocturno Culto!) at the absolute pinnacle of their black metal alchemy, raining down great bolts of hair-raising riff-lightning upon a metal public glad to howl along: “This is Armageddon!” The hits just keep on coming, too: the grand piano folk magic of “Forhekset,” the classical bombast of “Immortality Passion,” and “Mother North,” that inevitable, unavoidable, insurmountable anthem of black anthems. Though a great band both before and after Nemesis Divina, on no other record is Satyricon a perfect band.  [Moonfog, 1996]

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By the time Peter Jackson made elves, wizards, and hobbits cool, Blind Guardian had used the world of Tolkien to create their own epics, and this was the most epic of them all. The heavy metal bards found inspiration here from The Silmarillion, a book of tales from the First Age of Middle-Earth. But you certainly don’t need to know those stories to enjoy the album. As they move skillfully and seamlessly through the musical tracks (while dropping the occasional narrative to help advance the story), you’ll find yourself swept up in a storm of fantasy on par with any part of Jackson’s trilogy. [Virgin / Century Media, 1998]

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So, sure, Imrama’s not half-bad, but let’s not kid ourselves: A Journey’s End is where Primordial’s wrathful black metal grafts itself to seething currents of mournful yet defiant folk melodies and rhythms, emerging as a fully-formed and entirely distinct metal legacy in the making. The seeds of all future triumphs are planted here, but this is no mere bildungsroman-esque transitional stumble: The opening pair of “Graven Idol” and “Dark Song” is as strong a mission statement as any you’ll find. They are indeed gods to the godless, and A Journey’s End is a miraculous baptism by steadfast fire. [Misanthropy, 1998]

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Unless the follow up to this exceptional debut sees the light of day, this right here is it, folks, and what an impressive way to go out. Once again surrounding himself with first-class musicianship and crafting yet another collection of truly remarkable songs, this album’s pure greatness silenced any and all naysayers who questioned Chuck’s decision to venture outside of the comfortable realms of Death. One can only imagine what his future work could have been, but one certainty is the man’s legacy ranks up there with an elite few. [Nuclear Blast, 1999]

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One of the American underground’s most creative and revered bands began life by picking up the mantle (eh?) of enchanting black/folk synthesis pioneered by Ulver’s Bergtatt. Pale Folklore certainly charted enough of a dark and contemplative path of its own to set Agalloch apart as a band to watch, as even on this debut, the band’s penchant for finely-shaded, gradually-unfolding compositions that blend rich acoustic instrumentation, enveloping atmospherics, and clenched-fist aggression is gloriously on display. The truly astonishing thing, given the emotional weight and singularity of vision of Pale Folklore, is that Agalloch has only gotten better.  [The End, 1999]

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Thirty down; seventy to go…  Stick around and see what else we’ve got up our sleeves…

Posted by Last Rites


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