90s Essentials – Volume Four

Considering the album that sits atop this list, Volume 4 of MetalReview’s 100 Most Essential Albums of the 90s could very well just be titled EPIC WEEK. With major classics of folk and Viking metal strewn throughout, several of these albums (and bands) are responsible for a major spike in the sale of replica swords in the 90s.

But that’s not all, also included is one of progressive metal’s all time standards, and just for good measure, we’ll toss in some Suicidal fucking Tendencies, too.


The sound of waves; minimal rhythms and bombastic riffs; vocals delivered with such emotional depth that they overcome their musical limitation; lyrics of Nordland. Bathory’s Hammerheart: the birth of Viking metal and the album that launched 10,000 imitators. Each song, from the epic “Shores in Flames” through the thunderous “Father to Son” to the vast and sorrowful “One Rode to Asa Bay,” helped to forge an album that remains eternally close to the hearts of Quorthon’s fans. Set sail, set fire. Conquer. [Noise, 1990]

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One of the originators of crossover thrash spent the latter half of the 80s moving in a more metal direction, and that movement came to a head with this 1990 masterpiece. Frontman Mike Muir continued to explore lyrical themes of anti-establishmentarianism and general rebellion amidst the added metal influence of guitarist Rocky George and bassist Robert Trujillo (who also brought a subtle funk influence into the band).It’s almost impossible to listen to “You Can’t Bring Me Down” without having both middle fingers extended to the world.As you move through the rest of the album, from the emotional gut-check “Alone” to the razor-sharp televangelist satire “Send Me Your Money,” those middle fingers will find any number of deserving receivers. [Epic, 1990]

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Sweden’s Unleashed started strong with this killer slab of no-frills death metal, immediately establishing that, though they weren’t Sweden’s most famous or most innovative death metal outfit, they were nevertheless a Viking force to be reckoned with. Avoiding the Sunlight sound, Unleashed forged its own path. Behind former Nihilist member Johnny Hedlund, these Vikings unleashed this monster of simple-but-brilliant riffing, shifting tempos and sharp brutality, and thus began their long career as a consistent and consistently underrated dark horse of Swedeath. [Century Media, 1991]

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Expanding its ambition even beyond the inimitable Dreamweaver, Skyclad’s The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth was Martin Walkyier’s first post-Sabbat venture and it was instantly destined for enshrinement as the world’s first folk metal album. The pioneering spirit of this alchemic admixture was the perfect vehicle for Walkyier’s incomparably witty and verbose lyrical politicism. Although later records would more fully embrace and refine the folk-fusion, the raw audacity of the debut’s thrash-meets-medieval-England remains the defining moment of both the band and its genre. [Noise, 1991]

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Borne by the wave of progressive heavy music begun in the 70s and revitalized by Fates Warning in the 80s, Dream Theater nearly perfected their brand new take on the well-developed formula with just their second record. Boasting the unparalleled talents of five virtuosic performers yet tastefully restrained by erudite songwriting, Images and Words is a careful lattice of technical flash and philosophy, emotional bombast and subtlety; an instant classic that, for better or worse, spawned an endless army of followers that marches on to this day. [Atco, 1992]

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The verdict is still out, if Nespithe is truly the Alpha and Omega of that spaced-out type of death metal, where six strings sing the hymn of perpetual fucked-upness in chromatic scales and the rhythm section feasts on inhumanely weird time-signatures like they were suckling pigs in a Roman orgy. However, this stubborn disarrangement of notes still sticks out like a sore thumb and stacks up against almost anything in the big panorama of death metal. A paragon of groovy dissonance and a more than obvious pick for this list.  [Necropolis, 1993]

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So, you need a  Vader  album? (From the 90s that is–we already have their aughties output covered.) De Profundis is where it’s at. Some maintain that the Vader sound rarely strays–and they’re largely correct–but this is their seminal work. Arguments can be made for their thrashified debut, The Ultimate Incantation, but Vader–and every other Polish death metal band–have been trying to re-write De Profundis since its release. Driven by the Piotr Wiwczarek’s unmistakable vocal delivery, the album draws the perfect balance between the spine-crushing and the accessible. “Silent Empire,” “Sothis,” and “Blood of Kingu” are staples to this day, and deeper cuts like “Of Moon, Blood, Dream and Me” are testament to the superb songcraft of this classic lineup. The blueprint for the sound of an entire nation. [Croon, 1995]

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Arguably at their peak, Jon Schaffer and company delivered a multi-faceted effort that ranged from blistering (“Disciples of the Lie”) to morose (“Watching Over Me”) and points in-between (“Melancholy (Holy Martyr)”).  Perhaps most notably, it introduced the world to Set Abominae, the central character of the “Something Wicked” trilogy that closed the record and later spawned two albums to tell his story. While those may not have lived up to lofty expectations, this one remains a masterwork of American heavy metal. [Century Media, 1998]

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The Avenger could serve as a textbook for what a band should accomplish for with their second album: Retain the youthful energy and blinding heaviness of your debut record (Once Sent From The Golden Hall), while giving an across-the-board bolstering to production values, sheer heaviness, and compositional heft. The Avenger is a perfect showcase of both sides of the band’s personality: “God, His Son, and Holy Whore” and “Metalwrath” are two of the most vicious melodic DM tracks ever penned, while the band’s penchant for epic storytelling manifests itself masterfully on “Avenger” and “Legend of a Banished Man.” All this over the course of a mere seven tracks and thirty-five minutes. Compact, crushing, and classic. [Metal Blade, 1998]

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If it hadn’t missed the second-wave explosion by a few years, Taake would unquestionably be mentioned alongside the standard greats whenever Norwegian black metal is discussed. But in a way, the delayed entrance of the project’s debut Nattestid Ser Porten Vid was appropriate, in that the album represents everything great about the classics while still pushing the style into a realm of entirely new possibilities. With raw production, elaborate musicianship and songwriting, searing vocals, and some of the most majestic riffs and melodies of all time, Nattestid is truly black metal of the highest caliber. [Wounded Love, 1999]

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Forty down; sixty more to go…  ‘Til next time…

Posted by Last Rites


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