The 50 best albums from 1991
The changing of the guard was well and truly underway by the second year of the 1990s. Emerging from beneath the grey skies of the United States’ Pacific Northwest, this was the annus mirabilis where grunge properly exploded, while a host of adjacent alt. sounds – from British shoegaze to Floridian death metal to Californian funk-rock – also began to break through. Hell, even supposed hard rock saviours Guns N’ Roses and legendary thrash stalwarts Metallica dared branch out further into expansive stadium-rock than most fans had dared imagine.
Looking back, there’s still a tendency to romanticise 1991’s outrageous late-summer avalanche of all-time classics (Nirvana’s Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Pearl Jam ’s Ten, alongside the aforementioned Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion double-album and Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ dropping in the space of six wild weeks). The whole year was incredible, though, littered with albums that still influence how we listen to heavy music today.
So grab the nearest cassette player and let’s dive in…
50. Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind
Before Seattle’s grunge scene took over the world, there were a handful of trailblazers on America’s East Coast combining eardrum-rattling sounds and the jangly trappings of more conventional indie-rock. The fourth album – and major label debut – from Massachusetts alt. legends Dinosaur Jr. found frontman J Mascis operating without longtime collaborator and bassist Lou Barlow for the first time, but songs like breezy opener The Wagon and the faintly-trippy Muck proved their ever-increasing relevance.
49. Godflesh – Slavestate
Boasting just four tracks, and clocking in a shade under 23 minutes, Slavestate might technically have been an EP, but such is the weight therein that we’ve made space for it here. The turning point where Birmingham industrial supremos Godflesh began to introduce more twisted electronica and outlandish audio samples into their previously metal-dominated sound, there was more of a rhythmic basis here than on 1989’s seminal Streetcleaner, but songs like Perfect Skin and Someone Somewhere Scorned still suffocate with their loaded-on atmospherics.
48. Fugazi – Steady Diet Of Nothing
The second album from Washington, D.C. post-hardcore icons Fugazi is bemusingly overlooked by many music critics when charting the band’s scene-shifting cultural impact. Sure, it didn’t pack the tectonic heft of 1990’s Repeater, and felt stiffer than 1993 masterpiece In On The Kill Taker, but the smashing, sardonic quality of songs like Nice New Outfit and Dear Justice Letter defiantly endures. The title is a reference to the bone-dry comedy of the late, great Bill Hicks, too.
47. Monster Magnet – Spine Of God
When Dave Wyndorf led New Jersey troupe Monster Magnet into the recording of debut LP Spine Of God, little did he realise that he was starting a musical journey – and building into an emergent stoner rock scene – that would still hold a special place in the hearts of fans three decades down the line. The record performed poorly, in commercial terms, on release, but the hazy easygoing and driving cool of tracks like Medicine and Zodiac Lung have stubbornly endured.
46. Bikini Kill – Revolution Of Girl Style Now
In one sense, the first release from Olympia, Washington punk-rockers Bikini Kill feels like a relic from the pre-digital days, recorded quickly in their hometown’s Yoyo A Gogo Studios and originally self-released on cassette. On another, it was a pivotal progression of the riot grrrl movement, with its title a slogan for girl power at the time, while Daddy’s Li’l Girl and Suck My Left One represented the sonic equivalent of spitting square in a misogynist’s face.
45. Fishbone – The Reality Of My Surroundings
Widely considered the creative peak for Los Angeles ska-punk legends Fishbone, their third album The Reality Of My Surroundings still pops with vibrant colour and funky energy three decades on. Their first record to feature former Miles Davis musical director John Bigham on guitar and keyboards, there is a powerful sense of organised chaos to tracks like Fight The Youth and So Many Millions. With a little politicised hip-hop influence seeping in, too, it’s a collection of songs boasting huge levels of spirit and soul.
44. Superchunk – No Pocky For Kitty
One of the definitive bands of North Carolina’s ‘Chapel Hill scene’, alt.rock collective Superchunk were major players in the 1990s but have since faded into relative obscurity. With its title a reference to the popular Japanese chocolate biscuit snack, 1991’s Steve Albini-produced second album was perhaps their finest hour. Featuring much of the same grinding guitar and wry worldview that would empower grunge’s heroes, songs like Skip Steps 1 & 3 and Seed Toss nonetheless unfurl with much more positivity than those emanating from beneath the grey skies of Seattle.
43. Dark Angel – Time Does Not Heal
With Metallica moving on to the stadium-sized sounds of their self-titled ‘Black Album’ and many of the genre’s heroes falling by the wayside, the 1980s’ tidal wave of thrash metal was subsiding by 1991. Refusing to go gently into the night however, Californian speed demons Dark Angel dropped a fourth album – the last before their break-up the following year – full of nightmarish raw power. Setting aside the old occult influence in favour of a more socially-relevant purpose, tracks like Act Of Contrition and Psychosexuality tug on your conscience as well as melting your face.
42. Infectious Grooves – The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move… It’s Infectious Grooves
If ever there was a metal record that does what it says on the tin, it’s the debut LP from funk-metal supergroup Infectious Grooves. Featuring Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir alongside a host of co-players – including then-Suicidal / now-Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, and fuckin’ Ozzy Osbourne on groovetastic single Therapy – tracks like I’m Gonna Be My King and Monster Skank make it one of the greatest party metal albums of all time. Get down with the sickness.
41. Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious
The third album from Liverpudlian extreme metal legends Carcass – and the first to feature current Arch Enemy mainman Michael Amott on guitar – is a brilliantly unpleasant slice of viscera. Sonically, songs like Corporal Jigsore Quandry and Symposium Of Sickness see a continuation of their slide from grotty grindcore to nastier, harder-edged death metal. Lyrically, too, the tracks explore various ways of economically disposing of dead bodies. Lovely stuff.
40. Mind Funk – Mind Funk
Originally known as Mind Fuck, the American alt. metal collective (who’d later feature journeyman Nirvana / Soundgarden guitarist Jason Everman) were forced to retitle by Sony label Epic before release of their self-titled debut. They made no such concessions in their fascinating sound, however. From the gritty hard-rock atmospherics of opener Sugar Ain’t So Sweet through the high-octane throttle of Big House Burning to funk-inflected closer Touch You, this is an underrated, grunge-adjacent classic worth seeking out.
39. Screeching Weasel – My Brain Hurts
During their original run from 1986 to 1989, Chicago punks Screeching Weasel were very much of a hardcore disposition, leaving a trail of debt and destruction in the wake of 1987’s self-titled LP and 1988’s outstandingly-titled Boogadaboogadaboogada! One of the conditions of reforming the band in 1991, laid down by vocalist Ben Weasel, was that they moved towards a more Ramones-ish straight punk sound. The transition was far smoother than most could’ve imagined, with songs like Veronica Hates Me and Cindy’s On Methadone becoming air-punching, instantly-infectious hits.
38. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill
Nowadays, South Gate, CA’s Cypress Hill are one of the biggest names in West Coast hip-hop. Before the release of their self-titled debut, however, B‑Real, Sen Dog and the boys were just kids from Los Angeles’ meanest streets. It was songs like Latin Lingo, Hole In The Head, and the all-time classic How I Could Just Kill A Man that saw them go double-platinum, shifting over two million records in the United States alone, and putting the whole world on notice.
37. Swans – White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
New York experimental rock legends Swans dropped six albums between 1983 and 1989, metamorphosing from no wave brutalism through shady gothic and on into twangy neo-folk. Seventh LP White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity is widely regarded as the start of the second period of their esteemed career, with tracks like Power And Sacrifice, We Will Survive and Song For The Sun subtly drawing on the sounds of their recent past while shaping them into an attack more coherently polished and forceful.
36. Type O Negative – Slow, Deep And Hard
The debut studio album from Brooklyn miserabilists Type O Negative is an infamously strange, unwieldy piece of work. Originally titled None More Negative, it was renamed Slow, Deep And Hard in an innuendo-laden reflection of the band’s dark humour and improbable sex appeal, with that cover art supposedly showing the blurred image of a penis penetrating a vagina. Several of its semi-autobiographical tracks wryly chart frontman Peter Steele’s failed relationships, but others are far odder. Der Untermensch appeared to be a deeply questionable critique of welfare fraud. Gravitational Constant: G = 6.67 × 10 – 8 cm−3 gm−1 sec−2 based its main riff on the soundtrack to The Munsters. The Misinterpretation Of Silence And Its Disastrous Consequences, meanwhile, was three minutes of literal silence… A dip into the void.
35. Voivod – Angel Rat
Following up 1989’s prog-thrash masterpiece Nothingface, Canadian quartet Voivod refused to stand still, delivering a sixth album that delved into trippier, psychedelia-tinged territory. It was a bridge too far for some fans and critics on release, with the almost-grungy sounds of Clouds In My House and Twin Dummy alienating a fanbase who were already watching their beloved genre go into decline. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it’s now recognised as a forward-thinking landmark.
34. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
It wasn’t just thrash crossing over into strange, experimental new territories, either, with Floridian tech-death heavyweights Atheist continuing to push their boundaries on second LP Unquestionable Presence. Deploying head-spinning time-signatures, understated Latin rhythms and jazz-style harmonies that were alien in this generally bludgeoning genre, tracks like Your Life’s Retribution and An Incarnation’s Dream raised the bar to another level. Bassist Roger Patterson wrote the basslines but died in a tour van accident before recording. The record is an ageless monument to his memory.
33. Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten
Also dedicated to Roger’s memory was the full-length debut from New York brutalists Suffocation. Arguably less avant-garde than Atheist’s album, this was still a game-changing step forward for the fledgling tech-death scene, with the use of now-standard techniques (downtuning, palm muted riffs, tremolo picking) adding an edge and electricity to tracks like Infecting The Crypts and Seeds Of Suffering that simply hadn’t been witnessed up to that point. A masterclass in mayhem.
32. L7 – Smell The Magic
An alternative, all-female force in the Seattle scene, its a pity somewhat that L7 were overshadowed, in terms of mainstream exposure, by the city’s big four. Second release Smell The Magic was actually first dropped as a 12” EP on Sub Pop, featuring just six tracks in September 1990, but that was extended to nine for its broader LP pressing in July 1991. Building together into a spittle-flecked, all-attitude assault, tracks like Fast And Frightening and Broomstick still bristle with freshness (and relevance) today.
31. The Jesus Lizard – Goat
Right from the moment you double-take its famous cover art (that’s not an open flame, it’s a topless woman with an image of steel nails projected onto her body), the second album from Texan noise-rockers The Jesus Lizard is out to wrong-foot and confound expectation. Often delivering its abrasive-but-endlessly-complex composition in short, sharp bursts like Nub, Lady Shoes and Smash Mouth (no, not that one), it still feels so urgent and immediate that fans of the genre will evangelically declare it an all-time great. Even casual listeners owe it to themselves to give Goat a spin.
30. Leatherface – Mush
Regarded by many at the time as an English answer to America’s grunge heavyweights, Sunderland’s Leatherface did share unapologetic rough edges and a deceptive command of melody with the likes of Pixies and Nirvana, but their brand of surging punk-rock is better experienced on its own terms. There’s no finer album to do so with than seminal third LP Mush, whose bangers like I Want The Moon, How Lonely and Pandora’s Box still echo as some of the best British rock songs of the 1990s. Underrated class.
29. Corrosion Of Conformity – Blind
Raleigh, North Carolina mob Corrosion Of Conformity had been on the go since the early 1980s, but it was only with the arrival of great rhythm guitarist Pepper Keenan and the release of third album Blind (their first since 1985’s Animosity) that they locked in the formula with which they’d become a lasting force in the scene. Swapping the chaotic crossover thrash of old for a sometimes sludgier, often groovier, more heavyweight metal sound, the likes of Damned For All Time and Dance Of The Dead melded elements of Sabbath, Maiden and Metallica to confirm the Deep-Southerners were no fast-burning flash in the pan.
28. Pixies – Trompe Le Monde
The last of Pixies’ quickfire first four albums (1988’s Surfer Rosa, 1989’s Doolittle, 1990’s Bossanova) saw a shift away from the sweeping surf-rock of their last release back towards the abrasive alt. of their early days. Recorded in California, Paris and London – and produced by renowned Englishman Gil Norton – there’s a well-travelled flavour, from the woozily schizoid title-track (Trompe Le Monde being a French phrase for Fool The World) to more poignant anthems like U‑Mass and Letter To Memphis. Pixies would disband for more than a decade two years later, but their legacy was already sealed in stone.
27. Green Day – Kerplunk!
Old-fashioned punk had been suppressed by grunge, but beneath sunnier Californian skies, Green Day still believed. The previous year’s 39/Smooth might’ve been their de facto debut, but it was with Kerplunk! that the Berkeley punk rockers really started rolling. Seeing the arrival of drummer Tré Cool solidify a core line-up that has endured ever since, and the crackling chemistry on tracks like Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? and Christie Road, it was clear to anyone watching that these lads were set for bigger things. Hell, in heart-wrought opener 2000 Light Years Away they even showcased the sentimentality that would characterise some of their most massive hits decades down the line. Slam dunk Kerplunk!.
26. Cannibal Corpse – Butchered At Birth
One of those albums where the artwork is more widely-recognised than the actual songs within, the second LP from Buffalo, NY madmen Cannibal Corpse might’ve pissed off parents around the world with that hilariously OTT image of zombie infanticide – destined to be printed on T‑shirts for decades to come – but it had a far more significant impact on the evolving death metal genre. Where the likes of Atheist and Suffocation continued to be increasingly technical, CC stressed the value of sheer brute bludgeon. Sledgehammer compositions Meathook Sodomy, Living Dissection and Under The Rotted Flesh solidified a formula that would see them become the genre’s first million-selling band.
25. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick
Seriously, fuck knows what they were putting in the Floridian (swamp)water at the start of the ’90s, but much of the death metal output from the south-eastern state would go on to define the genre for decades. Alongside Obituary, Deicide, Death and the aforementioned Atheist, Tampa brutalists Morbid Angel soaked up the sun and spat out pure sonic fire. Picking up where 1989’s seminal Altars Of Madness left off, Blessed Are The Sick saw David Vincent, Trey Azagoth and co. refining things slightly: trading unhinged chaos for more deliberate, sadistic control.
24. Melvins – Bullhead
The artwork for Melvins’ superb third album Bullhead depicts a simple basket of fruit and glass of wine against a bubblegum-blue backdrop. Characteristically, it gives fuck-all indication of the substantial sonic refinement that the album represented for Montesanto, Washington’s sludgy experimental-rock trailblazers. Where 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments and 1989’s Ozma had come filled with bite-size blasts of hardcore-tinged high-volume, this opens with eight-and-a-half-minute epic Boris (after which the Japanese drone legends named themselves) before the likes of Ligature, Zodiac and Your Blessened see mainman Buzz Osborne really stretch his sound.
23. Smashing Pumpkins – Gish
‘I spin off and lose my head / Throwing stray a spark instead / Gather strength down in my heel / And dig it in the world I peel.’ Up against the plaid-shirted cool of grunge, Smashing Pumpkins became the weirdo alternative face of alt.rock in the early ’90s. Bringing together guitarist James Iha, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and (a still long-haired) Billy Corgan, debut LP Gish combined gothic and post-punk ’80s influences like The Cure and New Order, nods to contemporary rock acts like Jane’s Addiction and the gritty feel of that uber-influential Sub Pop sound. 1993’s Siamese Dream and 1995’s Mellon Collie would dwarf its sound and appeal, but Gish will forever be the first shot fired by a special band.
22. Death – Human
Chuck Schuldiner’s genius was already recognised by the start of the ’90s, but he was never one to stand still. Having begun to increasingly push the textbook death metal sound, the shift from rough-edged sonic violence to more cutting precision had notably ramped up on 1990’s Spiritual Healing. Arriving just 20 months later, fourth LP Human marked another quantum leap, as the arrival of Cynic duo Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Sean Reinert (drums) – alongside bassist Steve DiGiorgio – rounded out one of the greatest line-ups in the sub-genre’s history. Hand yourself over to their Suicide Machine.
21. Skid Row – Slave To The Grind
Compared to the balls-out glam-rock of 1989’s self-titled debut, Skid Row’s second album was a harsher, more metallic beast that almost felt custom-built to put the New Jersey quintet on the same stages as Guns N’ Roses. Tracks like fist-pumping opener Monkey Business and grandiose closing power ballad Wasted Time were never going to give Slayer a run for their money, but the additional weight – no matter how slight – added a gravitas alongside the good-time party attitude that had been there from the outset. Audiences were overwhelmingly on board, with the album going double-platinum in America, and becoming the first metal record to top the Billboard 200 in the Nielsen SoundScan era.
20. Primus – Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
Nachos? STEAMY! It’s testament to the time that a band as wilfully silly and stridently progressive as Californian alt.metallers Primus could get a deal on Interscope Records and proceed to name their major label debut Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. Underpinning their proggy flourishes and goofy gags with unimpeachable levels of instrumental virtuosity, tracks as funkily inspired and downright unhinged as Jerry Was A Race Car Driver and Tommy The Cat have defiantly stood the test of time. Dive in.
19. Bathory – Twilight Of The Gods
Long before Amon Amarth sailed comic book Viking motifs into the metal mainstream, their Swedish forbear Quothorn of Bathory achieved true Viking metal greatness across 1988’s Blood Fire Death, 1990’s Hammerheart and 1991’s Twilight Of The Gods. Moving away from the more frenzied black metal influence of old, towards an epic doom sound closer to that of Candlemass, tracks like Through Blood By Thunder and Hammerheart (arriving an album late, apparently) swung with all the power of Mjölnir. There was a pronounced classical influence, too, with the title-track a reference to the work of Richard Wagner while the aforementioned Hammerheart draws from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Nothing meat-headed here.
18. Bolt Thrower – War Master
Think Warhammer 40,000 is (just) for basement-dwelling nerds? Think again. The emergent death metal genre had been dominated thus far by outfits from Florida and Scandinavia, but Bolt Thrower ensured that the Brit-metal tradition was amply represented with their Games Workshop-inspired savagery. The Coventry crushers had already proved their credentials with 1989’s staggeringly heavy Realm Of Chaos, but War Master tweaked the formula to thrilling effect: better produced, more atmospheric, more precise than what had come before. Tracks like What Dwells Within, Rebirth Of Humanity and Cenotaph still pack bowel-loosening heaviosity.
17. Cathedral – Forest Of Equilibrium
In 1991, Lee Dorrian was still best known as the ex-frontman of Brummie grindcore pioneers Napalm Death. Forest Of Equilibrium – the debut LP from his legendary doom outfit Cathedral, formed in 1989 – put paid to that. Joining up with Gaz Jennings, previously of tongue-in-cheek thrash maniacs Acid Reign, the pair channelled 20 years of old-school influence through their own, more avant-garde sensibility, with songs like Commiserating The Celebration and Soul Sacrifice seething with a dark, extremist edge.
16. Paradise Lost – Gothic
Where the unrefined potential of the previous year’s debut LP Lost Paradise would see Halifax gloomsters Paradise Lost lay the groundwork for their game-changing death-doom vision, second album Gothic was the moment they really began to construct the looming cathedral of sound we know today. Wrapping coffin-cracking levels of bludgeon in velvety midnight atmospherics, vampiric classics Dead Emotion, Eternal and Falling Forever delivered the most convincing crossover between goth and extreme metal to date. Music to wake the dead.
15. Kyuss – Wretch
The desert sun was burnt into Kyuss’ debut. Wretch mightn’t exactly have made waves on release, but its pop-cultural significance has been amplified over the years, as a first outing for future stoner rock legends John Garcia (vocals), Brant Bjork (drums), Nick Oliveri (bass) and Josh Homme (guitar). This – along with Kyuss’ excellent other albums – deserves to be regarded as far more than a footnote in bigger bands’ stories, mind, with tracks like Son Of A Bitch and The Law packing enough muscularity and trippiness to demand they’re experienced on their own arid terms.
14. Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears
Like Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne could’ve been forced into obscurity by the rising alt.rock tide. Instead the big Double‑O responded with an album custom-tooled for the times: one of the finest and most important of his rollercoaster career. Ozzy was fit and firing on all cylinders, while artistic collaborators like ex-Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez and Motörhead’s Lemmy offered up gems as urgent and inspired as the throbbing title-track and southern-tinged sing-along Mama, I’m Coming Home. No More Tears went on to quadruple-platinum success as Ozzy’s best-selling solo album to date.
13. Hole – Pretty On The Inside
A gritty precursor to the more commercial sounds they would explore at the other end of the decade, the debut album from Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson’s Hole was built on the dirt and ugliness of life on the LA punk scene. Produced by Courtney’s noise-rock hero Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, songs like Teenage Whore and Garbage Man managed to compete with the crop of rock revolutionaries coming out of Seattle, while a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds showcased a rough seductiveness that reportedly caught the attention of pop goddess Madonna herself.
12. Motörhead – 1916
The ninth Motörhead LP – and the last to feature legendary drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor throughout – arrived after an uncharacteristic four-year gap between albums and coincided with Lemmy moving from England to West Hollywood. That the title-track was a slow-paced, stripped-back tribute to the fallen of WWI could’ve fooled some into believing the air had been let out of the outlaw hellraisers’ tyres, but the sunny disposition of high-energy classics R.A.M.O.N.E.S. and Going To Brazil – alongside expansive lead single The One To Sing The Blues – make this arguably the most diverse offering in a stacked catalogue.
11. Mr. Bungle – Mr. Bungle
Boasting Faith No More frontman Mike Patton (billed as Vlad Drac) at the helm, some early ’90s fans dared guess what the self-titled debut from Mr. Bungle might sound like before it hit shelves. As it turned out, this was a record beyond even the wildest of imaginations. With Mr. P on erratic, schizoid form as his Californian compatriots throw elements of ska, circus music, heavy metal, free jazz, and funk into a heady, experimental mix, sonic oddities like Slowly Going Deaf (a reckoning on the irony of wearing earplugs to listen to music) and Squeeze Me Macaroni (interpreting sex via food metaphors) are still capable of dropping jaws today.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
“Now, boys, the network has a problem with some of your lyrics,” Krusty The Clown told Red Hot Chili Peppers all the way back in 1993. “Where it says, ‘What I got you gotta get and put it in ya!’ how about just, ‘What I’d like is I’d like to hug and kiss you.’ With their peak globe-straddling prominence around the turn of the millennium, it can be easy to forget that Red Hot Chili Peppers have been on the go since 1983. Already four records in, Rick Rubin-produced fifth effort Blood Sugar Sex Magik was their first real breakthrough, as funky, soulful classics like Under The Bridge, Suck My Kiss and the aforementioned Give It Away ingrained themselves on a whole generation of fans – and paved the way for that legendary appearance in The Simpsons classic Krusty Gets Kancelled.
9. Temple Of The Dog – Temple Of The Dog
Recorded as a heartfelt tribute to Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose the year before, Temple Of The Dog’s sole, self-titled LP united a Seattle grunge supergroup – Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell joining Pearl Jam men Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, with Eddie Vedder also joining in – for a record that remains one of a kind. Full of feeling for their lost friend, tracks like Hunger Strike and Say Hello 2 Heaven paved the way for the raw feeling of Ten and Badmotorfinger later in the autumn.
8. Entombed – Clandestine
When we lost the great frontman LG Petrov earlier this year, he left an incredible legacy of records to look back over. Falling between awesome 1990 debut Left Hand Path and 1993’s seminal Wolverine Blues, the second album from his Stockholm savages Entombed is one of the less-celebrated. Unfairly so, for Clandestine is one of the greatest death metal albums of all time in its own right. Perfecting the visceral buzzsaw sound with which they burst onto the scene, and building it into catchier, more grandiose structures, songs like Sinners Bleed and Evilyn cracked necks around the globe.
7. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
There’s a lightness of touch about My Bloody Valentine’s astonishing second album that bands have been trying – and failing – to recreate ever since. Stacking up dissonant, textural guitars, androgynous vocals and moments of piercing electronica, the Anglo-Irish collective reportedly splashed £250,000 on a record that perfected the dreamy shoegaze genre that they – alongside the likes of Ride, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Slowdive and Swervedriver – had helped create. It was money well spent, of course, with the woozily emotive likes of Only Shallow and When You Sleep still very much revered all these years later.
6. Sepultura – Arise
‘Obliteration of mankind / Under a pale grey sky / We shall arise…’ With overcast alt.rock undeniably ruling the roost, Brazilian hard-nuts Sepultura embraced their position as generals in the metal resistance. 1989’s Beneath The Remains was the hard-won breakthrough, and 1991’s Arise saw them more freely flexing their creativity, honing the Cavaleras’ one-of-a-kind hybrid groove / thrash / death sound on songs as unapologetically ferocious as Dead Embryonic Cells, Desperate Cry and Altered State. A resounding invitation to fuck shit up.
5. Pearl Jam – Ten
If you’re in any doubt about the quality of music in 1991, bear in mind that all-time classic Ten only just snuck into our top five. With a title inspired by the jersey number of NBA star Mookie Baylock, after whom the band were originally named, and released one month before Nirvana’s Nevermind (though taking a little longer to gain traction), the debut LP from Pearl Jam would prove pivotal in shaping the grunge revolution. Eddie Vedder and the boys have had a longer, more fruitful career than any of their contemporaries over the three decades since, but there is a magic to songs like Even Flow, Alive, Jeremy and Black – many of them written within weeks of the band first coming together – that ensures Ten stands alone.
4. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II
After the most raucously received debut LP in the history of hard rock, Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion records became its most fervently anticipated second (and third). If 1989 mini-album Lies was a bite-size nugget that did little to sate fans’ hunger, this was an overblown banquet with everything they could stomach and more. From the unchained hard rock of You Could Be Mine and Pretty Tied Up, to the OTT semi-absurdity of epics like November Rain and Civil War, it was a showcase of the best (and a little of the worst) of GN’R, foreshadowing that internal tumult coming down the line.
3. Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
Grunge trailblazers Soundgarden were already onto their third LP by 1991, but it seemingly took the explosion of talent out of their native Seattle to spur them on to reach their full potential. With the arrival of bassist Ben Shepherd – credited by guitarist Kim Thayil for tightening the band’s songwriting – singles like Outshined, Rusty Cage and the wilfully provocative / unquestionably brilliant Jesus Christ Pose led to them becoming household names. A support slot on Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion tour and double-platinum sales duly followed. More importantly, they pushed at the boundaries of what grunge could be.
2. Metallica – Metallica
Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black Album’ can be viewed in one of two ways. Cynics call it the initial departure from the raw genius of their 1980s output: a commercially viable first step to their ultimate “selling out”. Realists see it as the point they took over the world: the entrance for a legion of new fans into the Metallica familehhhh, and a defiant show of strength from The Four Horsemen, as the emergent grunge generation consigned so many of their contemporaries to the history books. Thirty years on, songs like Sad But True, The Unforgiven, Wherever I May Roam and Nothing Else Matters speak for themselves.
1. Nirvana – Nevermind
Nevermind is a bit good, isn’t it? Having piqued listeners’ interest with the caustic imagery and fuzzed-up hooks of 1989’s Bleach, frontman Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic brought aboard ex-Scream drummer Dave Grohl and dropped a collection of songs that would change the face of music forever. From the underwater-baby-chasing-dollar-bill artwork, to world-beating lead single Smells Like Teen Spirit, to moody deep cuts like Something In The Way (which still crops up in TV ads and movie trailers decades down the line), absolutely everything in this loaded package has become utterly iconic. Even beyond its pop-cultural importance, its one of the most riveting portraits of tortured genius in all of music. Sublime.
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