90s Essentials – Volume Five

Another week, another entry in MetalReview’s soon-to-be-legendary 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s… This week features two thrash classics, a Maryland doom masterpiece, one of the best progressive death metal albums of all time, and one of the best not-progressive death metal albums of all time… And then things get blacker, with one moment of French brilliance and one moment of prog-tinted Scandinavian majesty…


1990 was filled with girls and ghouls and all of that fun stuff, but wouldn’t have been complete without Twisted Into Form. Forbidden‘s brand of top-shelf progressive thrash that year raised the bar(stool) on the whole game, all-world, and this nine-tune collective is exactly nine songs ahead of its time and on into timeless. Twisted Into Form was, and is, everything-in-its-right-place personified as channeled through the supreme talent of young bucks Bostaph, Anderson, etc. We’ll take this one to the grave. Preferably on cassette tape, the superior format.  [Combat, 1990]

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Nocturnus’s debut gets a lot of attention for being one of the earliest death metal bands to use keyboards (and that’s still rare). Sure, Altars Of Madness tossed them in here and there, but this is the real deal. What should get even more attention is the fact that The Key is a neck-wrecking triumph of thrashy death metal that is absolutely littered with fantastically flailing guitar leads and solos (just listen to the twin guitars channel “Ride the Lightning” at the end of “Lake of Fire”). Ground-breaking, sure, but more important than that? Totally ass-kicking.  [Earache, 1990]

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To this day, it seems that Coma still lurks in the shadow of its predecessor, Extreme Aggression, and I say put these two to a duel. They were both major label releases, of which Coma marked the end of Kreator‘s Epic / Columbia Records venture, but this album was nothing if not a hard kiss goodbye. It took the aggression of Aggression and zipped it up, and it also cemented Mille Petrozza as an all-region player, immortalizing him as a hooky-riff-writing-motherfucker whose guitar-German translated well to guitar-American and beyond, eliminating the borders in thrash geography. And admit it, that verse lick in “People of the Lie?” It’s so simple that you’re wondering how you couldn’t have written it, and you can’t play to save your fucking life. Less was more. Less was Mille.  [Noise / Epic, 1990]

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de Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son” painting has been used by a wealth of metal bands over the years, but that gruesome image will always equate to The Obsessed‘s finest hour to doom aficionados in love with that classic Maryland sound. Based solely on Wino’s near glam look at the time, one might think tunes about fast cars and even faster women were the order of the day, but what Lunar Womb delivered was a brilliant mix of raw doom with a punkish lean. An essential Hellhound Records gem!  [Hellhound, 1991]

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Is this 1991…or infinity? What keeps the wildfire valid in Unquestionable Presence‘s oft-sought-after brand of prog-DM is the lot of bands still reaching to accomplish its feats, and falling flat more times than not. Having already mastered the art of turning-tight-on-a-dime in ’89, they multiplied Piece of Time by 1.5, and ended up with the logical and impressive next step up. Remaining a furious force under cover art depicting a praying boy beneath a starlit sky and song titles like “Mother Man” and “The Formative Years” can mean only one thing: This is the Deep-Thinking Death Metalhead’s Death Metal Band, and this came at a time when the gore-n-scare in the titles alone was half of the battle. For the fraction that were off-kilter and somewhat reckless at the turn of that decade, this album was a crucial victory. Controlled by them, untamed by you, and even still. A presence, no question.  [Active, 1991]

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Bolt Thrower experienced some growing pains on its first two albums, but by the time of 1991’s Warmaster, the band’s sound had crystallized. The frantic bursts of speed present on the band’s first two albums are largely absent on Warmaster, leaving the band to rely on the steady mid-paced rumble that has become its signature sound. On Warmaster, Bolt Thrower is an armored division belching fire, grinding corpses beneath its treads on its way across the battlefield of a war that never ends. [Earache, 1991]

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Yet another in the long line of heavy metal classics from 1991, Coroner’s Mental Vortex is widely regarded as their crowning creative achievement. The fourth from the Swiss progressive metal troupe is heady thrash with a judicious dose of jazz and prog rock sensibilities that pushes and pulls and twists and turns without ever losing the listener in a morass of aggrandizement. Indeed, it defines a movement as, from Kevlar-coated machine gun riffs to Tommy T. Baron’s mercury-slick solos, Mental Vortex is every bit as metal as it is progressive. [Noise, 1991]

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While Fear Factory may have left an indelible mark on death metal with the clean / harsh vocal tradeoffs of Soul of a New Machine (a technique which, believe it or not, was novel at the time), their sound wasn’t honed to perfection until Demanufacture. This is the industrial metal album, a release that is simultaneously timeless yet purely and unflinchingly 90s. The lockstep demolition of the Dino Cazares / Raymond Herrera machine–in combination with Burton C. Bell’s distant, haunting cleans–was unprecedented, and no band (Fear Factory included) has come close to matching the cold, crushing systemshocks found here. Demanufacture may have spawned countless new-breed also-rans, but this masterpiece has never–and will never–be replicated. [Roadrunner, 1995]

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Although Blut Aus Nord stayed primarily in the shadows of other 90’s black metal acts, it was the creation of both Memoria Vetusta I and Ultima Thulée that allowed this innovative trio to lay its foundation of greatness. Memoria Vetusta I helped completely demolish the rigidness and monotony that existed in other Scandinavian bands, and also proved that the French, with their avant-garde approach to art, had just as much right to shape the future of this genre as any. [Impure Creations, 1996]

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Mired amidst such classic releases as Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Nexus Polaris, La Masquerade Infernale, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and Dusk and Her Embrace was the third album from Norway’s Borknagar. Along with competing with those releases, the album was burdened with following the Garm-fronted The Olden Domain, a classic in itself. But with then-relatively-unknown ICS Vortex / Simen Hestnaes as the new vocalist and material that became more rooted in 70s prog rock than frosty black metal, the album responded admirably. This album could have been interchangeable with Quintessence on this list, but with ICS’s unveiling to the metal world through the likes of “Oceans Rise” and “Ad Noctum”, clean vocals on a black metal album had been changed forever. [Century Media, 1998]

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That’s the halfway point, kids. By now you’ve probably bought all the Essential records you didn’t already own (and if you haven’t, you should), so come back next week and we’ll have some more for you…

Posted by Last Rites


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