It’s unarguable that heavy metal was very much out of the public eye, especially in North America in the 1990’s, and even moreso in the mid 90’s. Despite some bands giving it up or going on hiatus, many amazing and groundbreaking albums came from this maligned decade that makes us realize that while things might not have been at their commercial heights, the genre was exploding creatively with an outpouring of new bands, albums, and styles that stand the test of time very well.
Before compiling our overall list, I had a suspicion that the bulk of the albums would be from the very early 90’s (1990-1992: before the dip in popularity) and the later 90’s (1998-2000: after the rebound). The top 10 alone followed this with eight of the releases being from 1990-1992 and the remaining two being released between 1998-2000. In fact, only 8 of the top 30 came from the mid 90’s (1993-1997). Regardless, there were many great albums all throughout the decade and our list is but 30 of them. There are plenty more, and many highly ranked albums from individual staff lists didn’t even make the top 30 at all. This top 30 is however an overall consensus and contains a load of great albums, almost all of which are in my own personal collection (how many of them are in your collection?)!!
Our guidelines: As with most of our album polls, the restrictions limit the releases to full-length studio albums. The top 30 comes from a list of nominations over 600 albums long! Since picking the best albums for a decade is a big undertaking, we asked contributors to sum up the decade and their top selections. Each contributors’ comments can be found below the top list.
Intro and album notes below by EvilG, Aug. 2013
Comments represent his opinion alone and are not meant to represent the opinions of everyone at Metal-Rules.com.
1. Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990, Columbia)
PAINKILLER represents many things. It represents the end of an era for one of the greatest founders of metal. At the time, it was the last album to feature the mighty Rob Halford on vocals until his return many years later. It was the bands heaviest and most uncompromising release as they perhaps wanted to remain relevant to fans who had latched onto the heavier thrash metal style. It also represents a blueprint for many modern metal bands. Even though heavy metal is many things these days, I would say that if you watch the video for the song “Painkiller” and you don’t at least like it, then you are not a metalhead. Strong words perhaps, but that’s the way I feel. The album has everything I love about metal: soaring angry vocals, riffs that rip your head off, solos that shred with the best of them yet remain melodic, and pounding drums which had been sorely lacking from Priest prior to this release for several albums. It is no surprise that this album comes in as the #1 album from 1990-2000…well-deserved!
2. Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss (1990, Def American Records)
While fans may not consider SEASONS IN THE ABYSS to be Slayer’s best album (REIGN IN BLOOD is often given that honor), it is easily their best album from the 1990’s and the last “classic” album they did until reuniting with Dave Lombardo for 2006’s CHRIST ILLUSION.
3. Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990, Capital Records)
In 1990, Megadeth were kings of thrash at the pinnacle of their technical abilities. They left unnameable others behind in their dust with shred-lord Marty Friedman blowing everyone’s mind. Songs like “Hanger 18” with it’s torrent of solos from both Dave and Marty were just jaw dropping. This still stands as a prime example of what precision thrash metal is supposed to sound like.
4. Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious (1991, Earache Records)
While my heart was always with HEARTWORK, the Carcass album that jumps way up to #4 is Necroticism… Many of us likely heard the band for the first time back then with the video for “Incarnated Solvent Abuse” being played on most metal video programs. It was also a time when death metal in general was booming. This was the first Carcass album to feature guitarist Michael Amott which added more melody to the leads and in my eyes set them on the path from a grindcore band to a groundbreaking melodic death metal band.
5. Skid Row – Slave To The Grind (1991, Atlantic Records)
Renown for being the first heavy metal album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 during the SoundScan era, this is the definitive Skid Row album. Leaving behind hard rock and glam metal, Skid Row were clearly influenced by up and comers like Pantera as they adopted a more aggressive sound, especially on the title track, “The Threat”, and “Get the Fuck Out”. Some filler ballads, which for those into the band’s lighter side no doubt appreciated, round out the album pushing it towards mainstream acceptance while still more than appeasing most metalheads.
6. Sepultura – Arise (1991, Roadrunner Records)
ARISE is considered by most long term fans of Sepultura, myself included, as their last godly album. From the evil Cthulian cover to the speed of songs like “Arise”, this is one of the albums from the early 90’s that nearly toppled Slayer from atop their perch on the ungodly evil speed/thrash throne. In fact, it was a slap in the face to many a thrash band who were forgetting that speed was an essential ingredient in thrash as they started being more groove-orientated.
7. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (1990, Atco Records)
So much ranting has been done about this band and their albums online that I avoid all online discussion about the band as opinions are so polarized its become pointless. Regardless of what people are free to think, when this album came out it was revolutionary. It shook up the metal world, and like it or not, heralded a new era.
8. Nightwish – Wishmaster (2000, Spinefarm Records)
This album is another that captivated me upon first listening. I’d of course heard female vocals in metal before, even operatic female vocals, but not done to this this extent as a lead vocalist and with such finesse. WISHMASTER is also a bit of a turning point stylistically for the band as it was the last album they did that I consider to be a cross of power metal with symphonic metal. After this album, the guitar riffing was a little less…well, “riffy”, as the guitar became more of an atmospheric additional sound in the band’s overall growing symphonic metal / movie score metal style. The album still stands as my personal favorite from the band even though I love all their material….glad to see them crack into the top list.
9. Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth (1998, Virgin/Century Media Records)
For many of us in North America, NIGHTFALL… was the first time we got to hear Blind Guardian as it was the first of their albums to be released over here. The band’s unique brand of folk-inspired speedy power metal immediately set them apart from all the Helloween styled power metal bands as is continues to do until this very day.
10. W.A.S.P. – The Crimson Idol (1992, Capitol Records)
W.A.S.P. released a very thought-out and timeless album in 1992 with the concept album THE CRIMSON IDOL. Telling the story of the rise and fall of a rock star, the band (well really just Blackie as he composed and wrote all the songs) took on the concept of a rock opera and gave it a kick in the ass. It was also a diverse album for the band with repeating melodic themes, interludes, and acoustic parts that are necessary to help portray the required emotions for a concept album. While this isn’t my personal favorite album from the band, it is one that has grown on me and stands the test of time rather well.
11. Sepultura – Chaos A.D. (1993, Roadrunner Records)
12. Stratovarius – Infinite (2000, Nuclear Blast)
13. HammerFall – Glory To The Brave (1997, Nuclear Blast)
14. The Haunted – The Haunted (1998, Earache Records)
15. Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994, Roadrunner Records)
16. Death – Human (1991, Relativity/Relapse Records)
17. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick (1991, Earache/Relativity)
18. Children of Bodom – Hatebreeder (1999, Spinefarm Records/Nuclear Blast)
19. Metallica – Self titled (1991, Elektra Records)
20. Sonata Arctica – Ecliptica (1999, Spinefarm Records/Century Media Records)
21. Yngwie J. Malmsteen – The Seventh Sign (1994, Music for Nations/Pony Canyon)
22. Nightwish – Oceanborn (1998, Spinefarm, Drakkar, Century Media Records)
27. Entombed – Clandestine (1991, Relativity/Earache Records)
28. At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995, Earache Records)
29. Paradise Lost – Gothic (1991, Peaceville Records)
30. Iron Maiden – Brave New World (2000, EMI)
There is no question, the 1980’s are largely viewed as the glory years of metal by many. We tend to look back at the 80’s with fond memories as it was the time when the genre saw great commercial successes here in North America. The 90’s were a time when a lot of our favorite bands faltered, released sub-par albums, ran out of ideas, or broke up entirely. Some bands continued on in commercial obscurity while still enjoying success outside of the fickle North America markets. The darkest times for metal, for myself at least, was the mid 90’s. Almost nothing metal could be found where I live in Canada and when I went first looking on the brand new interweb in 1995, I found little to nothing about metal. Thus out of anger and a never say die mentality, I started Metal Rules.
When reviewing the long list of nominations for the best albums of the decade, I realized that while the metal genere might of went through some hard times commercially, there were just as many amazing albums from the 1990’s as there were from the 80’s, maybe even more! There was such a load of albums that came out in the 90’s that helped shape, slightly redefine and breathe new life into life into the genre. Some of those albums did not see North American release when they first came out, but eventually they did, and the fact that much of the rest of the world (Europe and Japan in particular) kept on supporting and releasing great metal in the 1990’s while this part of the world completely fell into the terrible grunge fad (where as Yngwie Malmsteen said “if you could tune a guitar you were already too good”) making it harder to find new metal bands in the mid 1990’s.
So I picked Hammerfall’s GLORY TO THE BRAVE as the best album of the decade. It’s not simply because I think that the album is better than the other top albums from my list, it is for what it represented. In early 90’s I had gotten more into extreme metal with bands like Carcass, Death, Slayer, Pantera, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Fear Factory all releasing very important parts of my metal world. I still loved the classics but I wasn’t finding much that sounded like that in the early to mid 90’s. Then in a random tape trade, someone threw on the band HammerFall. I played it, and was floored. It opened the floodgates to all the other “true” metal, power metal, and symphonic metal bands that to this day I count among my favorites of all time. “We will prevail”!!
Many people say that the ’90s were the time when metal died. To those people I say, “you weren’t paying enough attention!”. Sure, metal in the ’90s was a much reduced animal in terms of sales and exposure but for those of us faithful to the cause, there was much to be excited about. We saw continued mainstream exposure for some (Megadeth, Judas Priest), genre experimentation and expansion (Edge of Sanity’s CRIMSON or Samael’s PASSAGE for example), and straight up heavy metal perfection.
My list represented not necessarily the albums I feel were the best or most influential in the ’90s, but simply the ones that are my favorite & most listened. Basically, these are the albums that I wore out back then, and still play the hell out of today.
Despite Grunge driving metal back to the underground in the 90s, it did not prevent some of the best metal albums of all time being released. I struggled with this list, so the order is not exactly accurate. I just had to start putting albums somewhere. I will stand by my top 3 though, as I wore these albums out. They followed me to college, in my car, working out, partying, and even in to my older and graying days! I feel that these three albums are the best that each band ever released. Fates Warning never sounded so focused and accessible, and the lyrics along with the music perfectly captured the strain of relationships. Skid Row proved they were a ferocious metal beast, something not evident in their debut, while Sepultura shook off any remaining vestiges of Slayer influence and forged their own original sound; compact, heavy and above all extremely catchy. Hail 90s metal!
Sometimes an album comes along that is the best example of a genre of music. In 1991, death metal was at its peak as dozens of great brutal bands from the United States (mostly Florida and New York), England, Holland, and Sweden released albums produced at places like Morrisound and Slaughterhouse Studios. From this maelstrom of apocalyptic music, one album stands out to define what death metal truly is. Grave’s INTO THE GRAVE is a bludgeoning blend of low tuned grinding guitars, guttural anti-religious / sick vocals, and punishing drumming. No melodic technical bullshit here, a few eerie keyboards for atmosphere and that’s it, the rest is a relentless beating filled with dread! Grave’s unmatched guitar tone is lead heavy, like a dump truck unloading 10,000 lbs of boulders on your fucking head! No band can match that tone and I’ve seen and heard hundreds of death metal bands! Jorgen Sandstrom’s vocals are deep and menacing but understandable, with topics ranging from necrophilia and loss (“In Love”, “Day of Mourning”), depression / loss of faith (“Hating Life”), death (“Into the Grave”) and damnation / punishment (“Deformed”). The whole affair is extremely brutal but catchy as the riff for “Haunted” and the chorus of “Extremely Rotten Flesh” will burn into your brain permanently! Grave’s INTO THE GRAVE is to death metal what Slayer’s REIGN IN BLOOD is to thrash metal: the very best there is, no filler, no pretense, just brutal music!
I’m going to go against the grain a bit here but I’ve always felt that the 90’s were the Golden Age of Metal. We all have our favourite bands and it is odd that as a child of the 70’s and coming of age in the 80’s you would think that those decades might be my favourite but no. I’m avoiding teary-eyed nostalgia and looking at the facts, not just fondly remembering which bands I enjoyed.
That 90’s was an incredible time to be a Metal fan. As the small percentage of Metal bands that achieved stratospheric commercial success and attention in the 80’s, due to the attention to a fickle fan-base that had been heavily targeted by marketers, the real scene started to grow and expand into the diverse and dynamic scene it is today. The growth of Metal in the 90’s was huge. The 80’s according to Metal-Archives had about 3000 full-length studio albums released. In the 90’s there were over 11,000! That is over a 250% increase! There were more bands, more albums, more magazines and more labels than ever before. Some people would argue quantity does not equal quality but quality is subjective, and the sheer number of new bands and albums means there were bound to be a larger percentage of ‘quality’ bands entering the scene.
Small labels like Nuclear Blast, Earache and Century Media really started to take off and grow as well as the rise of many, many Metal specialty labels were created by fans, for fans, not just existing major labels hoping on a trend to sell records. Labels like Massacre (1991), Underground Symphony (1994), Scarlet (1998), Frontiers (1996), Regain Records (1997), Relapse Records(1990), Moonfog Records(1997) as well as AFM, Candlelight, Limb, Lion, Leviathan, and so many more were founded in the 90’s and most of them are still going today.
Genres started to divide, multiply, experiment and grow and we saw the rise of Death Metal, Black Metal, Gothic Metal and all of their various sub-genres and offshoots growing and morphing all across the globe. The utterly massive global resurgence of Power Metal began in the 90’s with bands like Sonata Arctica (#20 on our list), Hammerfall (#13 on our list), Stratovarius (#12 on our list) Blind Guardian (#9 on our list) leading the charge for hundreds of more like-minded True Metal acts. This scene still continues to dominate the globe today.
In the 90’s Metal discovered the internet (or is it the other way around?) and sites like this very one took to cyberspace as an inexpensive alternative for bands and fans to communicate as websites slowly surpassed ‘zines as the primary of communication in the underground. The 90’s also saw books, movies and more DVD’s about Metal than ever before start to be produced. Every aspect of the scene grew and expanded. In conclusion, everything grew and got bigger and better, more extreme, louder, faster heavier, darker, stranger and more exciting. The 80’s may have had the youthful teenage energy and enthusiasm but in the 90’s Metal became a cosmopolitan man of the world.
The No1 pick for me had to be Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark. I chose them simply because they are the best band in the world live as well as on album. Fear Of the Dark includes a few of my all time favourite tracks with Iron Maiden like “Fear of The Dark”, “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”.
Even though many of the traditional heavy metal bands went through hard times during the 90’s with grunge taking over the world, there were bands that continued walking down the metal path they’d always walked. The birth of the infamous Gothenburg sound made me, as Swede, proud to be Swedish. And let’s not forget the Stockholm death metal acts with Entombed and Dismember in the lead parts. Pantera put metal back on the map again. It was a good decade for extreme metal.
1990 to 2000 was all about the golden age of death metal. So many pivotal releases by some of the most important bands in metal, this was the decade that would define what musical extremity was about in its purest and most virile form. OLD SCHOOL IS THE ONLY SCHOOL!
The 90s sometimes seems a bit like a shadow on the face of metal, but this poll reminds us of how much good music, and good bands, came out of that time.
The fact that Pantera make my top five, three times, shows how much of an impact they made on me. If you told me i could only listen to one metal band for the rest of my life, I’d say Pantera before you’d finished that breath. There’s just something about that whole combination – the riffs, the solos, the vocals, the lyrics – that speaks to me – a language of power and pride, not words and letters.
Now everyone ‘Res-pect Walk…..’ – you know the words
At first I thought this poll would be difficult, but when I started looking through my library I realised that a lot of this decade is still on high rotation on my players. I ran out of time to going through my entire library looking for worthy nominees and as a result I owe an apology for missing the most important album release in my metal history – DUNGEON – Resurrection. DUNGEON is responsible for the power metal fan that I am today.
A great decade for power metal. A great era for Australian heavy metal.
Making a list of the best 30 albums released 1990 – 2000 was extremely difficult and nearly mission-impossible in every aspect. Even though it was claimed that metal was dead in the early 90’s, there were hundreds of great albums coming out in that era. When grunge vanished, the new generation of metal came out from the underground into the limelight, the whole thing went upside down. However, I spent a few sleepless nights thinking about the great albums. Frankly I am not even sure if these albums are the best ones, what I managed to forget…