90s Essentials – Volume Eight

We’re gearing up for the final act, people.

Volume 8 of MetalReview’s 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s might’ve been subtitled “Groundbreakers” if we had the front page real estate to allow for such shenanigans.

Contained herein are albums that set the standards for several of the 90s and 00s most revered sub-genres: brutal death metal, symphonic black metal, melodic death metal, and even stoner metal. You’ll also find nice evidence that a buff midget named Glenn wasn’t always considered a joke and proof that there is indeed life after (or between?) Iron Maiden.

And after this, there’s only two more to go. Will your personal favorite(s) make the cut? Stay tuned.


Refining the formula of the more rudimentary Danzig debut, the Evil Elvis perfected his blend of goth-tinted blues, rock and metal with Lucifuge. From the blustery “Long Way Back From Hell” to the swaggering shuffle of “Killer Wolf,” Lucifuge is a moody journey through all things dark and devilish, taking a rootsier, less extreme approach to pseudo-Satanic posturing and arriving there in less cartoonish fashion than many more comically demonic peers. Dark and brooding, Lucifuge still rocks like holy Hell. [Def American, 1990]

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Even today, Autopsy’s Mental Funeral feels like a mutated, deformed oddity in the metal pantheon: the morbid result of slicing apart death metal conventions and stitching them back together in the most repulsive manner possible. And herein lies the utter genius of this album. Odd time signatures, animalistic vocals, and an increasingly prominent doom influence are all seamlessly integrated into the band’s devastating brand of twisted death metal, making for a violent and unpredictable listening experience that never seems to lose an ounce of its thrilling effectiveness. [Peaceville, 1991]

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Even though the birds know this as a fact, it doesn’t hurt to repeat: the guys in Kyuss are the fathers of stoner metal and their second full-length, Blues for the Red Sun, is (arguably) their finest achievement and one of the genre’s peaks. It has since been copied by a plague of bands, and although many notable releases have been produced in the genre, none has quite managed to capture the tone and fuzz that made Blues for the Red Sun a landmark stoner metal album.  [Dali, 1992]

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It’s unclear whether Disincarnate was a James Murphy solo project or a band that Murphy happened to help out as he had previously done with Cancer, Death and Obituary. Regardless, the resultant album was a perfect example of Floridian death metal that seemed to cull from all the expected geographic influences. There was nothing truly original in this album, but Murphy’s time in those other bands are all tangible here and when mixed with his writing, supine solos and riffs, the foundation was laid for yet another legendary Floridian death metal act. However, this album was the band’s only release and while there are rumors of the band releasing a new album sometime in the future, we doubt it will surpass their perfect storm of a debut. [Roadrunner, 1993]

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Emperor’s debut full-length ushered in an epic, sophisticated brand of songwriting dynamics not present in the more minimalist style of most of their Norwegian black metal peers. Songs like “Into the Infinity of Thoughts” and the immortal “I Am the Black Wizards” pioneered a focus on narrative flow and melodic depth that was revolutionary in the wake of the genre’s simplistic roots. Future releases would only expand the band’s grandiose intensity, but In the Nightside Eclipse remains Emperor’s most influential and enduring album, and is undoubtedly symphonic black metal’s first masterpiece. [Candlelight, 1994]

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There is brutal and / or technical death metal…and then there is the third LP from New York vets Suffocation. Pierced from Within may be guilty of laying some eggs in the nest of mediocrity and breeding the spawn of half-assed, second-tier, tech-death(core) outfits, but that doesn’t remove the slightest bit of the nonpareil splendor it exhibits. From start to finish, the album is a forty-five minute gallop through a labyrinthine, thick and ground-shattering riff onslaught, the resulting rush of which makes you immediately jump back in. There exists few to none more mountainous landmarks of this epoch and style. [Roadrunner, 1995]

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It may be hard to believe in these days, but there was a four-album stretch where In Flames, as the brightest beacon of the then-burgeoning Gothenburg craze, could seemingly do no wrong. The Jester Race was the cornerstone. Before adopting a sleeker, peppier sound (and logo), In Flames’ first incarnation peaked here, combining somber melodies with positively seething riffery. (Witness the tension within “Artifacts of the Black Rain” and the tightly-boiled “December Flower” for evidence.) Today’s leading lights–such as Insomnium–are still scouring this thing for notes. [Wrong Again, 1996]

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Dimmu Borgir’s 1997 album Enthrone Darkness Triumphant could be argued as the template for grandiose symphonic black metal. Languishing for two unspectacular albums in the shadow of Arcturus, Emperor and Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir released a third album that was a watershed for the band and the genre. With English lyrics, a much more lavish production and far more prominent orchestration, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant was the album where black metal started to dip a toe into more commercial territory and out of elitism. Although still consistent to this today, it’s doubtful they will ever top “Mourning Palace,” arguably the sub-genre’s flagship song. [Nuclear Blast, 1997]

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The 90’s were a rough decade for Iron Maiden, and, initially, Bruce Dickinson’s solo work fared little better. But with 1997’s Accident of Birth, Bruce’s solo career began picking up steam. By the time of 1998’s The Chemical Wedding, Bruce and company were firing on all cylinders. With producer / guitarist Roy Z and former Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith lending a hand (and with William Blake’s phantasmagoric art and poetry as inspiration), Bruce gives one of the most powerful performances of his long and storied career. [CMC International, 1998]

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Raw, rollicking and unrelentingly melodic, The Lord Weird Slough Feg‘s second full-length rumbles into town sounding like a motley traveling circus of fire-breathers, knife-jugglers and cartwheeling jesters all drunk on gallons of summer wine. Yet somehow it’s all managed without sounding exceedingly campy. Then again, Slough Feg has always been about finding playful ways to wrap entertaining stories around their folk-soaked ‘old-ways of British heavy metal,’ and Twilight of the Idols manages exactly that in magnificently melodic fashion.  [Dragonheart, 1999]

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We’re almost there, kids.  Only twenty more albums left…  See you next week.

Posted by Last Rites


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