The 50 Best Albums From 1990
The dawn of the 1990s marked a changing of the guard in rock music. The colourful luridity of the 1980s – all voluminous hair metal, gob-flecked punk and OTT thrash ridiculousness – was fading, with the drier, more ironic outlook and muted tones of grunge and alt.rock beginning to take its place. That period of transition was bountiful for fans of heavy music, however, with the tension between stalwarts of the previous decade reaching their creative peak and a ravenous new breed scrabbling for their moment in the spotlight sparking invention and inspiration.
Memories of a time when artists were routinely cranking out a new LP every 12 months, music was traded hand-to-hand on tape, and where fresh discoveries were made by word of mouth, on the crackling radio-waves or in the pages of Kerrang! magazine are weighted by equal parts nostalgia and wonder. Even still, it’s astonishing how many of the releases on this list have indelibly shaped the scene we inhabit today…
50. Biohazard – Biohazard
The city that never sleeps was still a heavy music hotspot in 1990. Although not the purest iteration of the classic New York Hardcore sound, it’s hard to think of a NYHC record more savagely shaped by its hometown than the self-titled debut from Biohazard. Fixated on the drugs, violence and gang warfare that characterised pre-gentrification life in Brooklyn in the late ’80s/early ’90s, there’s a rare authenticity about the tough-guy swagger thumping through tracks like Wrong Side Of The Tracks, Justified Violence and Survival Of The Fittest. They’re also noteworthy as some of the earliest examples of elements of hip-hop rhythm and rhyme being incorporated into traditionally metallic music.
49. Vio-lence – Oppressing The Masses
It mightn’t be as celebrated as 1988 debut Eternal Nightmare, but the second (of only three) albums from underrated second-wave Bay Area thrashers Vio-lence arrived with plenty of bad-dream bite. Featuring future Machine Head men Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel on guitar, tracks like I Profit, Officer Nice and World In A World were supercharged by contemporary political outrage, while the scathing Torture Tactics had to be cut from the album after the first pressing due to objections from record label Atlantic. Look forward to being brutally reintroduced on the impending reunion tour.
48. Social Distortion – Social Distortion
Built on the gritty, roadworn sound of frontman Mike Ness’ half-hoarse vocals and jangling guitar, there was always a spark of something special about Social Distortion. It took their self-titled third album, though, for the Californians to truly catch fire. Packed front-to-back with future classics, the faint country influence and bourbon-soaked swagger of Let It Be Me, Ball And Chain, and their inspired cover of Johnny Cash classic Ring Of Fire mark just a few stand-out moments. None offered more, of course, than the bittersweet nostalgia of immortal singalong Story Of My Life.
47. Black Sabbath – Tyr
It’s often overlooked in favour of the previous year’s Headless Cross, but the third album of Black Sabbath’s Tony Martin era is almost certainly the most complete. Although its fixation on Norse Mythology – the titular Týr is the Norse god of single combat – felt almost instantly quaint when compared to Bathory’s Hammerheart of the same year, the mythical aesthetic and grandiose sounds drew unexpectedly favourable comparisons to the revered releases of the Dio era. It drops down a few places due to an unusually anaemic display from six-string great Tony Iommi.
46. Thunder – Backstreet Symphony
Following the disbandment of English pop-rockers Terraplane on New Year’s Day 1989, vocalist Danny Bowes, drummer ’Arry “H” James and guitarist Luke Morley decided to start a new project named Thunder. Less than 15 months later they dropped their debut LP Backstreet Symphony. It’s easy to see why these established players didn’t want to give up on rock’n’roll; every one of these 11 tracks here pulsates with the passion and energy of young men wringing maximum enjoyment from the best years of their lives.
45. GWAR – Scumdogs Of The Universe
The second (and still best-selling) album from satirical Virginian schlock-rockers GWAR saw them improve production quality and begin to distil that trademark sound, combining fast-and-loose punk energy, a surf rock sense of wavy momentum and gross-out lyrics from frontman Oderus Urungus that would have had many in the death metal fraternity wincing in disgust. A haphazard concept depicts GWAR (the titular Scumdogs) reigning over Earth’s puny masses with Slaughtermania imagining the band slaughtering hippies and Nazi skinheads alike while The Salaminizer riffs on gangsta rap. Fist-pumping third track Sick Of You remains one of their defining tunes.
44. Testament – Souls Of Black
They might be recognised nowadays as thrash metal’s most consistent stalwarts but, as early as their fourth album, Testament were showcasing significantly more flexibility and stylistic dexterity than many of their peers. Foreshadowing the massive, rock-inflected sound Metallica would explore on their Black Album the following year (albeit without Bob Rock’s million-dollar production), Souls Of Black was always going to be more divisive than its more balls-to-the-wall predecessors. Still, it remains an intriguing bridge between those whiplash glory days and 1992’s even more alienating The Ritual.
43. Queensrÿche – Empire
Following up their best album (1988’s masterpiece conceptual rock opera Operation: Mindcrime), Washington progsters Queensrÿche delivered their biggest in Empire. An eventual triple-platinum success came largely thanks to outstanding power-ballad Silent Lucidity, but the record produced a further five hit singles including Best I Can and Jet City Woman which rank among the band’s greatest-ever standalone tracks. A lack of consistency and singular direction elsewhere frustrated fans of Mindcrime, but the intervening years have focused memories of the record on those singular moments of glittering gold.
42. Iggy Pop – Brick By Brick
Having already delivered three albums as frontman with The Stooges and a further nine as a solo (or semi-solo) artist, and with a relatively lacklustre track record in the 1980s, it had begun to feel difficult to get excited about the ‘Godfather Of Punk’. Brick By Brick changed that. Bringing aboard long-time Stooges aficionado Don Was as producer, plus Guns N’ Roses stars Slash and Duff McKagan as co-songwriters, this rebuilt Iggy’s sound in the hard-rock mould, garnering his strongest reviews since the ’70s David Bowie collaborations, with the brilliant Butt Town even singled-out for praise by the mighty Beavis & Butt-Head.
41. Scorpions – Crazy World
In Jonas Åkerlund’s 2018 adaptation of Lords Of Chaos – a controversial chronicle of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 1990s – characters rip the piss out of each other for having Scorpions patches on their battle-jackets. It’s an acknowledged historical inaccuracy, for the German stadium-rockers were a massively respected force across the heavy music landscape at the time. Their 11th album (and last before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1991) took a while to catch on, but the sheer poignancy of third single Wind Of Change ensured it would become pivotal to their ongoing relevance and popularity.
40. Love/Hate – Black Out In The Red Room
Hair metal, as with so many ubiquitous hallmarks of the 1980s, was on its way out as the music industry sped into the final decade of the millennium. As a result, this (whip) cracking debut from LA quartet Love/Hate never got the attention it deserved. Knowingly absurd – their line-up listed vocalist Jizzy Pearl, guitarist Jon E. Love, bassist Skid Rose and drummer Joey Gold – there was always an element of tongue-in-cheek. Regardless, when boozy anthems like One More Round and Fuel To Run hit pace, they felt like the squeal deal, echoing mavericks like Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction as much as hairspray-loaded scenesters like Poison.
39. Kreator – Coma Of Souls
As with so many of their thrash contemporaries, Teutonic titans Kreator were just reaching their, ahem, kreative peak as the genre’s initial appeal was winding down. Bolstered by the addition of ex-Sodom axeman Frank “Blackfire” Gosdzik, aptly-titled bangers like Terror Zone, Agents Of Brutality and Material World Paranoia combined more cerebral ideas with the old need to ruthlessly rip and tear. Largely overlooked at the time, a 2002 reissue and its authors’ endurance as unbowed thrash bannermen have won back at least some of its dues.
38. Paradise Lost – Lost Paradise
Paradise Lost’s epic debut LP makes this list as much for the change it would help precipitate in the death metal genre as for the quality of the music contained within. A raw, unrefined version of the ‘death-doom’ style the Halifax miserabilists would go on to define – with only a little of the vampiric aesthetic that would bleed in with the following year’s tellingly-titled Gothic – the breathtaking builds, doomy deliberation and scourging severity of songs like Rotting Misery and Frozen Illusion still lurch the stomach and chill the bone.
37. Suicidal Tendencies – Lights… Camera… Revolution!
Seven years after they’d crashed onto the scene as crossover kings with 1983’s self-titled debut LP, Suicidal Tendencies’ fifth album – and second to feature future Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo – confirmed them as a thrash force for the ages. Infused with a playful funk influence while also more musically complex than what had come before (with the politicised lyrical content of tracks like Send Me Your Money and Give It Revolution emphasised a further maturation) Lights… Camera… Revolution! marked a significant step forward. Opening track You Can’t Bring Me Down remains one of their stagedive trademarks.
36. Obituary – Cause Of Death
While their countless Floridian death metal contemporaries (Morbid Angel, Deicide, Cynic and Atheist to name but a few) were still chasing a high-tempo chainsaw-style carnage, Tampa beasts Obituary had already worked out that there was greater heft in the deliberate bludgeon of an axe to the back of the head. Featuring master guitarist James Murphy (who would also perform on Death’s Spiritual Healing), sophomore LP Cause Of Death felt like a heavyweight benchmark, with tracks like Body Bag and Chopped In Half mercilessly hammering home their gruesome point as frontman John Tardy gargled his nightmarish imagery.
35. King Diamond – The Eye
Having unwound an epic fictional narrative from the perspective of the protagonist over his previous two releases – 1988’s Them and 1989’s Conspiracy – fifth album The Eye saw ex-Mercyful Fate vocalist King Diamond stepping back to narrate an abstract history of Christian atrocities, from the burning of supposed witches to sexual abuse within the church. Showcasing a brand of OTT gothic-metal that even lauded revivalists Ghost have yet to match, songs like The Trial (Chambre Ardente) and Into The Convent have proven utterly deathless.
34. Prong – Beg To Differ
The major label debut from New York groove/thrash/industrial power-trio Prong laid the groundwork for the three decades (and counting) of chaos that would follow. A more polished iteration of the one-of-a-kind sound they’d blueprinted with 1987’s Primitive Origins EP and 1989’s Force Fed, Beg To Differ loaded elements of crust, post-punk and hardcore into an already busy mix. The chaotic title-track and Headbanger’s Ball favourite Lost And Found (not to forget album art by Metallica go-to Brian “Pushead” Schroeder) were the gateway drugs for a fanbase who had no idea what they were getting into.
33. AC/DC – The Razor's Edge
Ten years on from Back In Back’s heroic, against-all-odds career high, it felt like Aussie superstars AC/DC had gone off the boil somewhat. 1988’s Blow Up Your Video, in particular, had audiences questioning whether the well-worn formula was finally growing thin. The Razor’s Edge cut through such doubts and took them back to the top of the hard rock mountain, leaving that iconic artwork – like the cover of some forgotten paperback thriller – permanently imprinted on many fans’ minds. Singles Moneytalks and Are You Ready delivered all the feel-good barroom rock casuals had been crying out for, but it was the creeping malevolence of the brilliant title-track and the stadium stomp of Thunderstruck which ultimately led the album to five-times platinum success.
32. Poison Idea – Feel The Darkness
The third album (and recognised magnum opus) from Oregon legends Poison Idea took hardcore punk to another level. Building on the fast, loud, chaotic foundations laid by 1986’s Kings Of Punk and 1987’s War All The Time, Feel The Darkness offered 14 tracks of venom and vitriol, each of which went off like bombs. Eventual cover versions from metal legends Pantera (The Badge) and Machine Head (Alan’s On Fire) proved the album’s lasting significance in the history of heavy music.
31. Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican
When NOLA groove-thrash legends Exhorder returned last year with smashing third album Mourn The Southern Skies, expectations from the metal fraternity were sky-high. That’s testament to the power of their pair of early ’90s releases, and particularly this heretical debut which perfectly exemplified a sound that was so obviously influential in the mighty Pantera’s coming-of-age. Combining machine gun thrash and treacly bayou grooves, songs like Desecrator and Legions Of Death still have the neck-rending force of a gallows drop.
30. Jawbreaker – Unfun
A couple of years before the grunge and pop-punk explosions that would mark the middle part of the decade, New York trio Jawbreaker were helping pave the way. The combination of a relatively breezy, nostalgic musicality and frontman Blake Schwarzenbach’s gritty, gutter-dwelling vocals made for a pulsating blend. Tracks like Softcore, Wound and Eye‑5 might lack the polish of 1995 landmark Dear You, but their compelling energy and intensity won a legion of fans for ’90s emo’s greatest cult outfit.
29. Cannibal Corpse – Eaten Back To Life
Behold: the album that took death metal imagery beyond mere death. The New York maniacs’ savage debut was by no means a complete version of the sledgehammer sound with which they would go on to be the biggest-selling band of the subgenre, but it was a barbarous start. Building on the most brutal effusions spilled from the guts of thrash with greater weight and even more absurdly gruesome imagery, tastefully-titled tracks like Edible Autopsy and A Skull Full Of Maggots saw the record banned outright in Germany and Cannibal Corpse instantly written into metal infamy.
28. Iron Maiden – No Prayer For The Dying
It’s not vintage Iron Maiden by any means, but No Prayer For The Dying proved that even on, er, autopilot the legendary Londoners are still better than 90 per cent of the rest. From the rat-a-tat attack of Tailgunner and chart-bothering creepiness of Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, to the formulaic yet beguilingly textured likes of Holy Smoke and the title-track, this eighth LP (and first with guitarist Janick Gers) remains one of heavy metal’s sturdiest weak-links.
27. Mark Lanegan – The Winding Sheet
Having risen to a degree of fame as frontman of Washington proto-grunge outfit Screaming Trees, the spare, sullen songwriting of Mark Lanegan’s debut solo LP The Winding Sheet felt like a jarring change of pace for some fans. Untold depths eventually revealed themselves, however, with profound distillations of depression and anxiety adding weight to Mockingbirds and Ugly Sunday. Dave Grohl has acknowledged the record as a massive influence on Nirvana’s legendary MTV Unplugged performance, with those high dramatics foreshadowed by Kurt Cobain’s appearance on Down In The Dark as well as his and bassist Krist Novoselic’s instrumental contributions to timeless folk cover Where Did You Sleep Last Night. A haunting masterclass.
26. Primus – Frizzle Fry
There was no shortage of alternative innovation as the 1990s hit pace, but El Sobrante oddballs Primus were still way ahead of the pack. Combining the sort of sprawling, high-brow experimentation Tool would go on to perfect with a far funkier, more absurdist, in-your-face approach to songwriting, the likes of To Defy The Laws Of Tradition and Too Many Puppies took a minute to get your head around but then refused to be let go. Like a Sesame Street skit on bad acid, John The Fisherman also delivered the year’s most leftfield hit single.
25. Bathory – Hammerheart
Having laid the foundations for Scandinavian black metal across his first four albums, Bathory mainman Quothorn (Tomas Frosberg) changed tack at the start of the 1990s, picking at threads laid by 1988’s Blood, Fire, Death, delving deeper into the history of his homeland and pioneering Viking metal with the outstanding Hammerheart. Possessed of a raw emotional authenticity this hacked down a door through which bands as varied as Enslaved, Amon Amarth and Korpiklaani would follow through. Tracks like Baptised In Fire And Ice and One Rode To Asa Bay have still yet to be surpassed.
24. Mother Love Bone – Apple
What might have been. Between 1988 and 1990, proto-grunge collective Mother Love Bone were one of the brightest lights of the booming Seattle scene, with uber-charismatic frontman Andrew Wood dynamically counterpointing the weighty sounds of a band featuring future Pearl Jam men Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass). Unfortunately, Andrew would die of a heroin overdose just days before this grandstanding debut LP was due to drop. Bridging the classic rock grandeur of legends like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and the subversive wit of the rest of the scene, tracks as great as Holy Roller and Crown Of Thorns sit as monuments to one of rock’s most tragic lost opportunities.
23. Warrior Soul – Last Decade, Dead Century
Shortly after Warrior Soul mainman Kory Clarke performed a solo set at New York’s Pyramid Club under the banner Kory Clarke/Warrior Soul he accepted a bet with one of the venue’s promoters that he (previously a journeyman drummer) could have the best band in the city within six months. Nine later he was signed on a multi-album deal to renowned Universal subsidiary Geffen Records. Having recruited a group of capable players (including ex-Killing Joke drummer Paul Ferguson), songs like I See Ruins and Trippin’ On Ecstasy felt like more upbeat (and, ultimately, less celebrated) counterparts to the angsty grunge sounds coming out of the other side of the continent.
22. Living Colour – Time's Up
New York hard rockers Living Colour had already won considerable mainstream success by the turn of the 1990s with debut LP Vivid and mega-single Cult Of Personality, but Time’s Up proved they had so much more to offer. Rolling in more pronounced elements of hip-hop, jazz fusion, Delta blues, funk, jive and soul (Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh, Little Richard and renowned actor James Earl Jones all cameo), songs like Type and Love Rears Its Ugly Head ooze depth and confidence, while the title-track won the band their second straight Best Hard Rock GRAMMY.
21. Trouble – Trouble
Doom metal most certainly felt like the poor cousin to death and thrash at the turn of the decade (Cathedral’s genre-reinvigorating Forest Of Equilibrium wouldn’t drop until 1991) but the self-titled fourth album from Aurora, Illinois’ Trouble was a particular stand-out. Eschewing the Satanic edge of so many of their contemporaries (they were often classified as Christian metal) and reeling from line-up instability, they were floundering until mega-producer Rick Rubin took hold to more clearly define the strains of psychedelia and classic metal in their sound – and got the record released on his renowned Def American imprint. A shout-out here, too, to the year’s other remarkable doom offering: The Obsessed’s long-overdue self-titled debut.
20. Death – Spiritual Healing
Within their revered back catalogue, Spiritual Healing tends to be regarded as one of the lesser Death albums. What a testament to the quality of their catalogue that is. Caught between the lurid horror movie imagery of their early releases and the virtuosity of their later career, it is difficult to pin down. Looking back, it now feels like a pivotal moment for late frontman Chuck Schuldiner as he began to explore humanist anti-authoritarian themes while bringing aboard six-string shredmaster James Murphy, whose showy high-energy style electrifies everything from Living Monstrosity to Killing Spree.
19. Helmet – Strap It On
Balanced on the centre-point between alt.metal, noise rock and post-hardcore, the debut album from eventual New York mainstays Helmet felt explosively innovative on release. All staccato riffage and suffocating drop‑D tuning, tracks like Repetition and Bad Mood showcased a new type of heaviosity that would inform nu-metal and much of the rest of heavy music in the years to come. The spaced-out sound of fourth track Sinatra stands out particularly, having offered a less abrasive way in for many of Generation X’s disaffected youth.
18. Deicide – Deicide
Legend has it that infamous Deicide frontman Glen Benton – a believably unholy presence with an inverted cross literally branded onto his forehead – strode into the Roadrunner Records building, slammed his band’s demo (carrying then-moniker Amon) on the table and demanded, “Sign us now, you fucking asshole!” The 33 minutes of Satanic savagery that made up their subsequent debut LP ensure we believe it, with an anger, chaos and murky darkness that would set the bar for metal extremity in the years that followed.
17. Green Day – 39/Smooth
Although Green Day’s debut album didn’t make huge waves on release, it’s impossible not to view it, with three decades of hindsight, as the first step on the grandest journey in all of punk rock. Featuring original drummer John Kiffmeyer (Tré Cool would join later that year) and characterised by its adolescent unevenness, blinding flashes of their eventual brilliance spill through. Cuts like Disappearing Boy and Don’t Leave Me stubbornly endure, but Going To Pasalacqua stands tall as one of their greatest-ever songs.
16. Pixies – Bossanova
The third of Pixies’ first four-albums-in-four-years run was a perfect showcase of that command of dissonance and musical incongruity that so impressed Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Influenced by surf and space rock, however, Bossanova remains an utterly singular alt.rock beast. Boasting incredible economy and invention – eight of the 14 tracks clock in under the three-minute mark – the verve and vibrancy spilling from songs like the thrashing Rock Music and dizzying stand-out Velouria still make us want to throw shapes every time we hear them.
15. Anthrax – Persistence Of Time
If Anthrax had been too rigidly characterised as the immature kid brothers of American thrash metal’s Big Four, fifth album Persistence Of Time did much to paint them in a more mature light. Ending the (first) Joey Belladonna era on a technical high – all oppressive atmospherics and cerebral composition – Persistence Of Time remains, for many fans, their most purely accomplished offering. A jagged cover of Joe Jackson’s Got The Time reassured us that they still knew how to party, too.
14. Fugazi – Repeater
Washington, D.C. post-hardcore pioneers Fugazi had made a name for themselves long before the release of their brilliant debut LP. Fronted my Minor Threat figurehead Ian MacKaye (duelling vocally with Rites Of Spring’s Guy Picciotto), the collective had already dropped two game-changing EPs in 1988’s self-titled and 1989’s Margin Walker (collated, that year, into the 13 Songs collection). From the driving riffage of opener Turnover through towering centrepiece Blueprint to the experimental tendencies of crashing closer Shut The Door, however, Repeater cemented their place as one of 1990’s most innovative, influential, downright important bands.
13. The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker
While much of 1990’s musical landscape was defined by the tension between the classic metal/glam scenes that had dominated the ’80s, and the alt.rock/grunge sounds which would rule the decade to follow, Georgian quintet The Black Crowes made their mark with a debut LP of far more timeless, bluesy Southern rock. Buoyed by a full-blooded cover of Otis Redding’s classic Hard To Handle and full of stadium-seeking tunes likes of Jealous Again and She Talks To Angels, this took mainstream rock back from the surly teenagers and gave it again to the cross-generational masses.
12. Bad Religion – Against The Grain
After the genre-redefining brilliance of 1988’s Suffer and 1989’s No Control, expectation was sky-high for Bad Religion’s fifth LP. Although Against The Grain isn’t held in quite the same regard, the urgency of its anti-conformist message and the immediacy of songs like the breathless Anaesthesia, that profound title-track and 21st Century (Digital Boy) – which would be re-recorded and released as a single on eighth album Stranger Than Fiction – ensured that it would still be remembered as one of the band’s finest hours.
11. Judas Priest – Painkiller
After the relative lull of 1986’s Turbo and 1988’s Ram It Down, West Brom legends Judas Priest roared back to form for the final release of vocalist Rob Halford’s first tenure with the band. Entrenched in the two decades of heavy metal history Priest had been so integral in shaping, yet possessed of a modernist cutting-edge, Painkiller rips from start to finish, overloaded with classics like Hell Patrol, All Guns Blazing, A Touch Of Evil and Between The Hammer And The Anvil. It was the unstoppable title-track that would live in infamy, mind, with guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing tearing through some incredible riffage as Rob delivers his most iconically head-bursting witch’s shriek: ‘THIIIS! IIIS! THE! PAIN-KILLEEEER!’
10. Sonic Youth – Goo
Already several albums in, it was only with sixth LP Goo that New York noise-rockers Sonic Youth began to find real momentum in the then-crucial college radio sphere. Expanding upon the back-and-forth six-strings and dense arrangement of 1988’s seminal Daydream Nation with a greater pop emphasis, tracks like Tunic (Song For Karen) and Kool Thing – a powerful collaboration with Public Enemy’s Chuck D – also saw themes of female empowerment and a greater social awareness come prominently to the fore.
9. Jane's Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual
There’s a school of thought that it was the shapeshifting second album from Los Angeles outlaws Jane’s Addiction that opened the floodgates for the alt.rock takeover of so much of the 1990s. An album of two halves, the first five tracks are standalone bangers, with the funky, punky blend of Stop! and Been Caught Stealing proving unforgettable earworms. The final four are in tribute to vocalist Perry Farrell’s deceased girlfriend Xiola Blue, who passed from a heroin overdose at the age of 17 in 1987. The 10-minute Three Days and almost-as-sprawling Then She Did… deliver a daring progginess, while closer Classic Girl leaves-off with a narcotically bittersweet, woozy romance.
8. Danzig – II: Lucifuge
Danzig’s second album as a ‘solo’ artist is arguably his best. Picking up where 1988’s self-titled debut left off, beefing up the sound and pouring on the tar-black Satanic influence, tracks like Snakes Of Christ, Her Black Wings and Long Way Back From Hell mightn’t be as instantly recognisable as Mother, but pack plenty more depth. Even better, fresh combinations of punk attitude, metal heft and insidiously swampy blues influence showcased new sides to the Evil Elvis – from the countrified slide guitar of 777 to the shady acoustic of I’m The One. Who would’ve imagined we’d be getting the Danzig Sings Elvis covers album a full 30 years later…
7. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell
Pantera had released albums before Cowboys From Hell – four, in fact, including 1988’s Power Metal which featured the full classic line-up – but this was the release where they became the outfit we remember today. With frontman Phil Anselmo clearly beginning to exercise his influence, there’s a defined element of sludgy New Orleans influence, while brothers of destruction Vinnie Paul and (quickly metamorphosing from “Diamond” to “Dimebag”) Darrell Abbott unlocked whole new levels of invention and aggression. That opening six-song run, from the title-track and Primal Concrete Sledge to Cemetery Gates and Domination remains a concussive benchmark.
6. Alice In Chains – Facelift
Although it would take another year for Nirvana’s Nevermind to truly kickstart the grunge revolution, Alice In Chains were chief among their contemporaries paving the way. The Seattlietes’ debut LP was a stirring introduction: all pained introspection and shapeshifting atmospherics as the chemistry between vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist/second singer Jerry Cantrell crackled across tracks like We Die Young, Sea Of Sorrow and Bleed The Freak. In radio-hit Man In The Box, they delivered a haunting earworm that still stirs the airwaves today.
5. Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet
A hip-hop game-changer that transcended genre boundaries. Although equally-important second album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back rocket-boosted Public Enemy’s meteoric ascent and placed their status quo-challenging lyrics squarely under public scrutiny, the Long Island crew refused to fold under the heat, instead channelling it into one of the fiercest and most fearless records in hip-hop history. There was absolutely no give in the social commentary of tracks like 911 Is A Joke and Anti‑N*gger Machine, which continue to influence acts as diverse as Linkin Park and FEVER 333, and which – unfortunately – still ring painfully true today.
4. Entombed – Left Hand Path
Long before they became death’n’roll standard-bearers, Swedish terrors Entombed hallmarked the classic Stockholm sound with their astonishing debut LP. Perfecting and popularising that buzzsaw guitar tone that would become synonymous with the city’s Sunlight Studios, tracks like Drowned, Revel In Flesh and Supposed To Rot churned with avalanching abrasion and war engine levels of intensity. Named after the anarchic, taboo-busting approach to dark magic in Western esotericism, there is a deeper philosophical meaning to be dug out of the chaos, but most listeners were too busy to care, throwing down to sounds every bit as hard and heavy as anything from the other side of the Atlantic.
3. Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption
The idea, in 1990, that Napalm Death could’ve grown any nastier – any more ferocious – than the grindcore monsters responsible for 1987’s genre-defining Scum and 1988’s bar-raising From Enslavement To Obliteration must’ve seemed utterly outlandish. But with incoming vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway and guitarist Mitch Harris linking with already-ensconced bass-maniac Shane Embury, fans were exposed to Cenobite-wincing levels of sonic sadism. Tearing chunks of influence from the notorious Floridian death metal scene of the time (tellingly, Deicide’s Glen Benton and Obituary’s John Tardy both guest on Unfit Earth), the record marks not only a deeper, darker heaviosity, but also a significant step up in terms of complexity with the 90-second blasts of the past having putrefied and mushroomed into multi-riff smashers unafraid to smother the utter chaos under an atmosphere of fear and oppression.
2. Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss
Making it five classics from five LPs, Slayer delivered their most-rounded release as the decade rolled over. Combining the ravenous relentlessness of Reign In Blood and the more insidious creep of South Of Heaven, some detractors felt that Seasons In The Abyss was the sound of Slayer spinning their wheels. To the contrary, this was the thrash overlords deep in the groove, killing it from start to finish. There was a slithering morbidity about the title-track and Ed Gein-fixated classic Dead Skin Mask, but there was a more immediate power, too, as they reckoned on the wages of war and imminent societal collapse on Hallowed Point, Expendable Youth, Skeletons Of Society and the awesome War Ensemble.
1. Megadeth – Rust In Peace
If the style of thrash metal that had dominated so much of the 1980s was approaching oversaturation and obsolescence at the turn of the decade, Megadeth’s fourth album was proof that it could still be state-of-the-art. The point at which Dave Mustaine’s revolving-door line-up struck genre-defining paydirt with guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza stacking up alongside bassist Dave Ellefson and the flame-haired frontman, Rust In Peace is the epitome of all-killer-no-filler heavy metal. From that staggering opening salvo of Holy Wars… The Punishment Due and Hangar 18 through the more atmospheric sojourns of Five Magics and Lucretia to the face-melting outer-limits of breakneck classic Tornado Of Souls and Polaris, it’s still an astonishingly complete listen. Three decades down the line, inconsistency might’ve dulled the Megadeth sparkle, but these nine songs guarantee their heavy metal immortality.
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