90s Essentials – Volume Six

Still going, friends. There’s no end in sight yet for this relentless onslaught of visceral volumes, and number six is a doozy. From the looks of those top three, you’d expect this to be the week that MetalReview goes all death metal, but it’s not meant to be. Also featured: Lemmy; some low-tempo brilliance courtesy of a couple of eternal champions; and a few of the more adventurous albums (and bands/artists) ever to step into the heavy terrain.

And are there two albums from the 90s with more of a legacy of modern influence than Bergtatt and Destroy Erase Improve? It would be hard to argue that there are, but if you’d like to try, we urge that you do just that in the comments section below…


Floridian first-wave death metallers Obituary made a massive splash with Slowly We Rot in 1989, and they hit a home run with Cause Of Death a year later. Featuring journeyman guitarist James Murphy in place of Allen West (who was back for the next record), Cause Of Death is a flesh-ripping combination of Murphy’s more advanced musicianship and the band’s trademark Frost-bitten death metal, all beneath John Tardy’s perfectly ominous and vomitous vocals. Easily one of death metal’s all-time greats. [Roadrunner, 1990]

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Our hair belongs to Consuming Impulse, but in the interest of 90s and solid trifectas, we’re down to get in a tangle over Testimony. The outro-duction of growler Van Drunen saw the re-introduction of Pestilence founder Patrick Mameli to the vocal setting with axe still in hand. Some dude named Kent was credited as the keyboardist for these sessions and really lived the part, unleashing all sorts of B-movie creepers. But Kent aside, there’s some classic riffage on here that is absolutely definitive Pesti, even if it does preview the prog-leanings that ultimately resulted in their next album, which sounded like it was written for and recorded in a microwave. Testimony also marked the beginning of the eternal infernal “Van Drunen-vox versus Mameli-vox” debate that you’ll find Van Drunen winning more often than not, but there’s no denying Mameli as King of the Slightly Awkward, Yet Deathly Ill Guitar Riff.  [Roadrunner, 1991]

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The early 90s Stockholm death metal scene gave birth to host of great bands, and while some of these were more successful, better known, and more creatively adventurous than Grave, none of them were heavier. Nowhere is this better exhibited than on their debut, Into the Grave. The combination of Tomas Skogsberg’s signature production stamp, Jorgen Sandstrom’s cavernous, demonic vocals and great slabs of dark, heaving riffs make Into the Grave a paragon of Swedish brutality. [Century Media, 1991]

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After a few disappointing years with Epic Records (despite solid albums in 1916 and March Or Die), Motörhead signed with the small ZYX label and released the blistering Bastards. Their first album featuring newly recruited drummer Mikkey Dee proved to be their best effort in years, and inarguably the pinnacle of their 90’s output. In addition to the thundering “Death or Glory” and the it-would-make-Jerry Lee Lewis-jealous “Bad Woman,” Bastards also included one of darkest, creepiest songs ever in “Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me.”  Bastards proved that even after nearly 20 years, Motörhead had lost none of the edge, power, or attitude that had endeared them to fans in the first place. [ZYX, 1993]

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There’s more to Eyehategod than meets the eye. On its surface, Take As Needed For Pain is a tribute to pure atavism. But beneath its primitive lurch, it’s a deeply forward-thinking album. At a time when most metal bands were obsessed with speed and precision, Eyehategod took an almost free-form approach. Riffs slur organically from one tempo to the next, and bizarre turnarounds muddle bluesy stomps. But at the end of the day, Take As Needed For Pain is about one thing: SUFFERING FROM ADDICTION TO DRUGS. SUFFERING FROM ADDICTION TO DRUGS. SUFFERING FROM ADDICTION TO DRUGS.  [Century Media, 1993]

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Reading the ample history of instability over the lengthy career of Pentagram makes it all the more impressive that the band still managed to release some of the most widely saluted doom material the genre’s ever witnessed. Be Forewarned slipped out amidst the eye of the storm, born on the backs of one of the band’s most impressive line-ups including Liebling, Griffin and Hasselvander behind the kit. Incredibly strong from start to finish, but it’s the crushing blows delivered by tunes such as “The World Will Love Again”, “Life Blood” and “Petrified” that makes Be Forewarned positively indispensable.  [Peaceville, 1994]

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Bergtatt was one of many things Ulver managed to do right during a time that was difficult for anyone playing extreme metal. Additionally, Ulver managed to stay out of the negative spotlight by simply not setting limitations on themselves musically… or burning down churches and killing people. Most notable however, was Ulver‘s ability to add a true Norwegian folk aspect to its music without taking one shred of intensity away from the listener. Ulver‘s freshman effort is filled with both experimentation and expertise, making it both magical and highly uncommon. [Head Not Found, 1995]

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If any metal band is “often imitated but never duplicated,” it’s Meshuggah. No band will ever successfully replicate the mechanistic clatter of albums like Chaosphere and Nothing. But on Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah hadn’t achieved the single-minded abstraction that characterizes their later work. That’s not to say it’s a conventional metal album, but you can hear more evidence of their roots: the thrashiness of “Vanished” and “Transfixion,” the gang-shouts of “Future Breed Machine,” and Fredrik Thordendal’s fusion-y soloing throughout. Such touches leave Meshuggah sounding more human and more relatable than they do anywhere else in their catalog.  [Nuclear Blast, 1995]

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Despite consistently crafting quality records since emerging from Black Metal’s first wave, the Czech Republic’s Root inexplicably remains one of the metal world’s most wonderful secrets.  By 1999, Big Boss and his rotating company had completed the transformation from raw black metal to deep and lush dark metal with The Book, thus bestowing among the most intriguing creations in all of heavy music. A spellbinding concoction of traditional, doom and gothic metal, The Book derives unstoppable power from Big Boss’ sub-mantle vocals and soars to epic heights on adroit songwriting. [Redblack, 1999]

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Supplementing his usual affinity for grandiose arena-metal theatrics with some truly bizarre, disorienting excursions into psychedelic weirdness, Infinity is easily the strangest album in Devin Townsend’s catalogue. It also happens to be one of his most distinctive and brilliant musical ventures, carefully balancing oddball humor with genuine emotional heft and a healthy dose of catchy, heavy songwriting. Infinity can be a jarring listen, but it’s also a consistently captivating one, and helped to establish the reputation of Townsend’s solo work as some of the most innovative to appear in the metal scene. [Sony, 1998]

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Sixty down; only forty more left…  Who will make the list next week?  Tune in and find out…

Posted by Last Rites


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