90s Essentials – Volume Ten

Bittersweet as the end can be, it must come.

So here we have Volume 10, the final entry in Last Rites’ 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s. This is the volume that will cause many to exhale as they finally see their personal favorite, and many more to revolt because their all-timer didn’t make the cut. Did we purposefully leave a few of these for the final volume in order to build suspense? Of course we did; it’s called “telling a story,” and each of these albums deserve just that. After all, have the stories surrounding these albums – one in particular – not reached the level of legend in the years since their release? It just felt right to go out with a bang (or in that instance, a stab), and we feel that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Now the real fun begins: lash away, and tell us how badly we fucked up. The worst that can happen? More readers discover more classics.

…and what was that? “An 80s edition,” you say? Well, we’ll just have to think about that…


Where each of Slayer’s previous albums charted new territory for the band, Seasons in the Abyss distills the essence of it’s predecessors into one refined, focused, but still vicious opus. Thrashers like “Hallowed Point” and the concert staple “War Ensemble,” grooving mid-paced tracks such as “Expendable Youth” and “Skeletons of Society,” and the haunting, slow-burning evil of the title track and “Dead Skin Mask” mark Seasons as the work of a veteran act in its prime. While Slayer’s subsequent releases have been uneven, Seasons stands firmly amongst the band’s best. [Def American, 1990]

• • • •


0Expanding upon the sound of Altars Of Madness, Blessed Are The Sick took Morbid Angel to their highest point. Between Azagthoth’s unorthodox riffing and structures, Vincent’s near-perfect death growl, Sandoval’s powerful drumming, and the Lovecraft-ian anti-Christian lyrical slant (again Azagthoth’s), Blessed was one of the most accomplished extreme metal records of its day, and it remains the peak of Morbid Angel’s alphabetized catalog. From “Fall From Grace” to the list of demons in “The Ancient Ones,” Blessed is the sound of perfect evil. [Earache, 1991]

• • • •


The full-length debut from Incantation remains heavier than hell, even decades later. With Craig Pillard’s low and choked gutturals and John McEntee’s tempo-shifting noxious riffage, Incantation blended rotten death metal with bouts of trudging doom, all of it downtuned and bottom-heavy and simply vile. With tempos either crawling or blasting, and production dark and dank, Incantation sounded like no other band back then. The album that spawned legions of imitators, Onward remains one of the ugliest records of its time. [Relapse, 1992]

• • • •


The game-changing pinnacle of the ill-fated partnership between Earache Records and Sony/Columbia, Heartwork was the organic evolution of the more melodic stylings heard on it’s predecessor Necrotism: Descanting the Insalubrious that forever changed the landscape of extreme music on it’s way to becoming an early classic (and standard-bearer) in the realm of melodic death metal. Frankly, if it weren’t for Heartwork, there would probably be a lot fewer metal fans today, and the metal landscape would look drastically different. It didn’t matter that their Swansong was a relative disappointment, because once you’ve achieved perfection, just about anything would be. [Earache / Columbia, 1993]

• • • •


Mayhem’s career is so loaded with controversy and historical significance that its easy to forget how great their music really was at its high point. Featuring the intricate bass playing of Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and the unique vocals of Attila Csihar, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas came lurching out the band’s most tumultuous period as a black metal masterpiece. While it’s famous for its instrumental lineup, this album also shows Euronymous reaching his full potential as a songwriter, as seen in quintessential tracks like the serpentine “Life Eternal” and the iconic “Freezing Moon. [Deathlike Silence, 1994]

• • • •


As if At the Gates’ swan song wasn’t going to make it onto this list. The rare case when reality outweighs myth, Slaughter of the Soul was the result of relentless death / thrash intensity forcefully crashing into the melodic nuances of NWOBHM, with Tomas Lindberg’s eviscerating vocals always present to remind you where the fuck you were. Many consider it to be the birth of so-called Gothenburg melodeath, but in truth it was its death knell, a strike so powerful that At the Gates had to break up, leaving their peers and contemporaries permanently in the dust. [Earache, 1995]

• • • •


Burzum has delivered many various projects to black metal’s realm over the past twenty years, but none of them have been as intriguing as Filosofem. Perhaps fate played the biggest role in the creation of this album, seeing that Varg Vikernes was sent to prison before it could be fully mastered. Layered with a uniquely warm and bubbly approach, Filosofem is undoubtedly the most different of all Burzum‘s early releases. Vikernes, who took part in many of the most important releases to ever come from black metal’s infamous second wave, delivers a truly unique approach that is both philosophically and musically timeless. [Misanthropic, 1996]

• • • •


After a clunky debut in Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, a young Devin Townsend (and a prime Gene Hoglan, giving one of the most dominant performances of his career) turned damn near everything on it’s ear with City. Black metal aside, this is the most alien, extreme metallic contribution to come out of the 1990s: a crackling, urban wall-of-fuckery that’s constantly threatening to burst into complete madness. Unquestionably, this the crowning jewel in the spotty SYL discography: Dev’s rage is at its most organic, his compositions blissfully void of self-awareness. The result is timeless and forever vital. All hail the new flesh. [Century Media, 1997]

• • • •



On some level, death metal is about noise. Most of the genre’s defining groups shied away from conventional melody, relying on chromatic gibberish instead. GorgutsObscura takes this line of reasoning to its logical extreme; it is a perversion of a perversion. Guitarists Luc Lemay and Steve Hurdle wrench sounds from their instruments that shouldn’t be possible and mold them into coherent riffs. Rhythms mutate, get lost in themselves, and suddenly snap back into place. The songs are horrifyingly dense at first, but if you’re crazy enough to study them, they somehow become catchy. Not for the faint of heart. [Olympic, 1998]

• • • •


Once the “shuffling musician” years of Testament’s career began, Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson always seemed to surround themselves with only the best talent available, and The Gathering (how fitting) is a prime example of an alliance of heavy metal royalty done right. Containing not only some of the band’s heaviest songs up until this point, this bombastic beast of a thrashsterpiece helped set the bar for modern production among thrashers; those both new and old are following in The Gathering‘s footsteps to this day. [Spitfire, 1999]

• • • •


So there you have it, folks: the 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s, as determined by your faithful Last Rites staff. Thanks for playing. Don’t leave without a fight.

Posted by Last Rites


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.