90s Essentials – Volume Nine

This is almost the end, my friends. Almost the end. We’ve come through eight installments of Last Rites’ 100 Most Essential Albums Of The Nineties, through eighty records, and here we are with ten more: A classic band’s reinvention, two soon-to-be-classic bands’ introductions, a brilliant work of snickering darkness, some very different progressive death metal entries and a sludge classic that put the heavy in “heavy metal” and spawned legions of imitators.

We all know metal is great–f it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here after all–but it seldom gets better than these ten records.


After diving into pop metal lameness in the last half of the ’80s, Judas Priest opened the ’90s with all guns blazing, screaming back with the blistering power-thrash of Painkiller. With new drummer Scott Travis opening the show in a flurry of kick drums and cymbals, Painkiller’s fire is immediate – once the title track kicks in, beneath a typically Halford screech, it’s evident that Priest is back on target. Painkiller is the last great classic-era Priest disc, and their most ferocious. [Columbia / Sony, 1990]

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Dismember was a ball hair and a Carnage / Necrosis Records deal away from being the originators of Swedish death metal. But after Entombed’s Left Hand Path beat them to the punch, they responded with an equally brilliant album that could easily have been the genre’s standard had it been released a few months earlier. Still, Like An Ever Flowing Stream runs a close second as the best Swedish death metal album of all time in the eyes of many, and further cemented ‘the Swedish sound’ as something utterly awesome. Honestly, who doesn’t know the opening strains of “Override of the Overture?” [Nuclear Blast, 1991]

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If for nothing else, A Blaze in the Northern Sky is essential listening due to its status as the first full-length Norwegian black metal album. However, A Blaze in the Northern Sky is equally capable of earning its spot on musical merit. From the lumbering doom of “Kathaarian Life Code” and the Celtic Frost worship of “In the Shadow of the Horns” to the haunting close of “Paragon Belial” and the diabolical groove of the title track, A Blaze in the Northern Sky is a veritable cornucopia of shifting styles and unforgettable riffs. [Peaceville 1992]

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Of all the 90’s success stories, none seemed more unlikely than Type O Negative. But that is a credit to the incomparable lyrical skills of the late Peter Steele, who knew that a Jesus sex fantasy (“Christian Woman”) and the first skewering of the fashion-forward goth crowd (“Black No. 1”) were exactly the dark odes that an over-grunged, under-humored audience wanted. Meanwhile, the rest of the album was basically a soundtrack for the disenchanted to wallow to, whether by the heart-wrenching combo of “Too Late: Frozen” and “Blood & Fire” or the F.T.W. attitude of “We Hate Everyone.” [Roadrunner, 1993]

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This beast of the melodic death metal genre — its true gem and one of the genre’s pillars — is a concept album made by several Finnish dudes that were barely of legal drinking age. Those same Finnish dudes are today some of the most recognizable figures in the metal scene, while Tales from the Thousand Lakes became a true metal classic, anticipating the future blurring of the death and doom subgenre boundaries. Seventeen years later, it still sounds fresh and inspiring.  [Relapse / Spinefarm,1994]

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Widely regarded as Chuck Schuldiner’s crowning achievement, Symbolic is flawless in every way, shape and form. From the clear, crisp production – easily one of the best of its time – to the fabulous interplay between the musicians involved, right down to the most important factor, the brilliant songwriting, this album is an undisputed masterpiece. Showcasing his genius both musically and lyrically, Chuck’s compositions on this album have abolished the test of time and will forever continue to do so. Some bands inspire others to form; Symbolic alone has spawned numerous. [Roadrunner, 1995]

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It is nothing short of amazing how ahead of the times Neurosis was. It took nearly a decade for their post/sludge/atmospheric imitators to finally get their shit together, and even then they never matched the pure apocalyptic glory of Through Silver In Blood. At times both impossibly vast and crushingly claustrophobic, this album proved that heaviness comes from much more than the multiplier of your rectifiers. Draining, rejuvenating, “Purify”(ing), cataclysmic; listening to Through Silver In Blood is like the enflamed death of a phoenix, resulting only in the desire to die and live again. [Relapse, 1996]

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Black? Death? Thrash? Sure. Unadulterated, unadorned, unabashed Heavy Fucking Metal? Without doubt. D666’s Unchain the Wolves achieves the rare trifecta of telling the world to fuck off, actually meaning it, and driving the point home with a spiked leather gauntlet to the nuts. Militant misanthropy scaffolds eight anthems to the trampling of Man ‘neath the heels of the legions of Satan, while an epic melodic guidon reminds that this is heartfelt hate.  …Wolves is essential for all the reasons you fell in love with metal in the first place. [Modern Invasion Music, 1997]

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My Arms Your Hearse, Opeth’s third album, marked a new beginning for the band on two levels: It was their first album simultaneously released in Europe and in the US, thus exposing them to a wider audience, and it also represents the band’s shift towards a cleaner, more progressive sound. Marked by many as their finest album, the sheer inspiration that flows from its every pore shall not be easily met nor surpassed. Hence, in the essential albums of the 90s it goes, narrowly edging out Orchid and Morningrise.  [Candlelight / Century Black, 1998]

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The band was pretty much unstoppable on their run from The Fourth Dimension to this record, so picking a favorite was daunting. For sheer devastation, you might want to look elsewhere (The Final Chapter), as Hypocrisy explores the more adventurous regions that were travelled on the second half of Abducted. It’s a bit of an anomaly amongst their discography, as ragers like “Apocalyptic Hybrid” are in the minority. Instead, we get deliberately-paced anthems like “Elastic Inverted Visions” and haunting ballads like “Paled Empty Sphere.” For all of their flirtations with the extra-terrestrial, Hypocrisy stands as the band’s most alien and otherworldly exhibition. [Nuclear Blast, 1999]

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So there it is, the penultimate installment. Only one remains. See you next week for the final showdown.

Posted by Last Rites


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