The Songs That Forged Metal: Part 3 - 1990-1999

Metallica's James Hetfield forging metal in the 1990s
Metallica's James Hetfield: an icon of 90s metal
(Image: © Giambalvo & Napolitano\/Redferns)

The Songs That Forged Metal: Part 1 – 1964-1978|Part 2 – 1979-1989

Alice In Chains Man In The Box (1990)

One of the iconic bands who helped to shape the 1990s, Alice In Chains had a unique sound – one that was melancholy yet also uplifting. Few could match Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting vision, nor Layne Staley’s curiously haunted vocals. The first single from their debut album saw the Seattle masters at their prime, with a song that’s clever, slightly perverse and all-enveloping. Its detuned Sabbath-esque sludge is tempered by a stunning melody, while Cantrell and Staley’s call-and-response vocal lines on the chorus would set a template they would utilise throughout their recorded career.

Ministry Jesus Built My Hotrod (1991)

The band that began as a virtual disco outfit have come to be lauded as one of the most important industrial metal names of them all. Jesus Built My Hot Rod encapsulates everything that made Ministry so special – the driving, forceful refrain, the heady samples, the slanted vocals from Al Jourgensen – all wrapped up in high-speed humour. This is dance music for those who love Killing Joke and Suicide.

Nirvana Territorial Pissings (1991)

Nobody can argue about Nevermind’s place as one of the most important albums of all time – metal or otherwise. But its value doesn’t lie just in songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit and Come As You Are. Territorial Pissings reflects the fact that the trio’s punk roots were as firm as ever. Lyrically it’s about a confused individual finding his way in a harsh world, which is reflected by Cobain’s jagged, fucked-up, fuzzed-up guitar. Their songs certainly got darker post-Nevermind, but …Pissings is as metallic as Nirvana ever got.

Metallica Enter Sandman (1991)

While Metallica helped to carve a new metal path in the 1980s, they transcended their niche with this song at the start of the next decade. And they did it without compromising their instincts and credibility. No major metal band had ever achieved such crossover success before. Metallica did it simply by improving on their basic model – a huge melody, slightly off-kilter disturbing lyrics, fret-melting guitar – and dragged it kicking and screaming into the general public’s conciousness with the assistance of über-producer Bob Rock. Suddenly metal went mainstream.

Pearl Jam Once (1991)

Although we first heard the potential of Eddie Vedder’s soaring voice on a few tracks on the Temple Of The Dog album, it was really brought home on the opening song from Ten, the band’s debut album. Few others can claim to have introduced their entire musical blueprint with the first track on their first record, but it’s all here. The unmistakable groove, the Vedder croon, lyrics that could barely contain the protagonist’s anger and frustration, the slow build… it helped to give a generation its own voice.

Soundgarden Jesus Christ Pose (1991)

Not only did this song provide a checklist for all that made Soundgarden great – the vicious, screaming Chris Cornell vocal, Kim Thayil’s monstrous detuned guitar riff, thunderous rhythm section courtesy of Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron – it also gave their frontman an opportunity to indict the rock stars who strike their ‘Jesus Christ’ poses in the media and then bemoan their ‘messianic’ status. It was the note-perfect precursor to the mega-hits they would have later in the decade with Black Hole Sun and Spoonman.

Kyuss Thumb (1992)

While there was a stoner sound before Kyuss – and others like Queens Of The Stone Age would subsequently take this further – there’s little doubt that this was the band that defined what ‘stoner metal’ was all about. And they were never better than on Thumb. It’s the embodiment of stoner rock – a heavyweight blues base topped with a real psychedelic distortion.

Rage Against The Machine Killing In The Name (1992)

Although the seeds were sown in the previous decade by Aerosmith and Run-DMC, the concept of rap-metal came into its own later in the 1990s. But never was it so virulently and powerfully pursued as here. Rage Against The Machine were a socio-political irritation, a band who were prepared to expose the ills and hypocrisy of the era, while matching this with some of the most intense music of the 90s – and KITN (with its syncopated riff and repeated profanity) illustrates it perfectly. They gave metal back its voice of conscience, and budding guitarists a new hero in the form of Tom Morello.

Dream Theater Pull Me Under (1992)

The whole idea of progressive rock was in the doldrums and utterly debunked by the time Dream Theater came on the scene. Yet the New York quintet actually succeeded in giving the genre some much needed credibility. Pull Me Under proved it was possible to be complex and progressive musically, while having a powerful melody at its heart. This was prog metal for the masses.

Pantera Walk (1992)

At a time when something fresh was needed to boost the heaviest end of the musical spectrum, along comes metal’s brightest new guitar star, Dimebag Darrell – a man who virtually re-invented the riff with this strutting, heavy-as-lead groove. The band managed to grab the classic metal approach of Sabbath and Metallica, shake it up and give it a renewed sense of purpose in the grunge-dominated jungle.

White Zombie Thunder Kiss ’65 (1992)

From Beavis And Butthead to horror movies, Thunder Kiss ’65 as established itself firmly in our consciousness. It has become the defining moment for White Zombie – its combination of metal, industrial, jungle and punk propelling the band into becoming one of the most celebrated metal acts. Without this song, the history of heavy metal would have been very different. And without Rob Zombie, the world a duller place.

Type O Negative Christian Woman (1993)

1993 was Type O’s year, the time when their gothic doom approach reaped its greatest reward, and Christian Woman encapsulated their identity and their confrontational nature. There was something unnervingly charismatic and appallingly attractive about the song. It was blasphemous, yet also captured the zeitgeist – an anthem for a dysfunctional generation who were fully prepared to break taboos, shock and offend.

Sleep Dragonaut (1993)

Amazingly, this was a demo. Part of one sent to Earache Records, who were impressed enough to release it as Sleep’s Holy Mountain album. In the process, the San Jose band completely turned the doom genre on its head and sent the senses spinning. Unlike so many at the time, Sleep didn’t live in the shadow of Black Sabbath, they took it forward. Dragonaut was the ultimate weapon for those who believe doom needed freshening up.

Cathedral Ride (1993)

Having evolved from the harrowingly bleak plod of their early releases, Cathedral’s second album saw them move into psychedelic, drug-induced realms whose groove-laden bounce and mad-sage blurting of surreal lyrics proved seminal for doom and stoner rock. Ride has proved one of the most memorable tracks they’ve written, with a Doctor Who theme-style riff to ring throughout the ages.

Machine Head Davidian (1994)

When Machine Head released their debut album, thrash was lost in its own myth. But this song, more than any other, gave the genre a fresh taste for blood. While the world turned to the sounds of nu metal, Davidian proved that sticking to the traditional values gave a pointer to an energetic future. It was the most important thrash hymn for many years.

Monster Magnet Negasonic Teenage Warhead (1995)

If stoner rock belonged principally to the West Coast of America, then Monster Magnet were out to prove that the East Coast could have its fun as well. With this song, the Magnet defined their sound. It gave them an identity that was different to anyone else by reinvigorating the idea of space rock, giving it a potent purpose not heard since the glory days of Hawkwind.

Marilyn Manson The Beautiful People (1996)

While Manson had already made a mark as a protégé of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, and someone who colourfully courted controversy, if he was to be anything other than a passing frightmare then he needed a song to perfectly showcase both his musical and artistic ideologies. This was it – The Beautiful People launched his legend, and still defines his philosophy better than anything else.

Rammstein Du Hast (1997)

Perhaps it was inevitable that a German band would take the industrial groove, shake it about and give it a major overhaul. Rammstein did just that with their second album, Sehnsucht. And Du Hast typified their approach. It’s a gloriously ludicrous militaristic march, blessed with a firm beat and also a quirky sense of humour. A stage show packed full of drama and pyrotechnics would ensure that the band and their sound would appeal to the masses, not just a cult metal following.

Slipknot Wait And Bleed (1999)

The disintegration of society at the end of the last century was brought to a crescendo by a nine-man, bemasked demolition machine from Iowa. Nihilism and dystopia were their pillars. Wait And Bleed became their rally call. It also proved to the world that there was an extreme talent beyond their boiler suits. This propelled Slipknot and metal into a new decade.

The Songs That Forged Metal: Part 1 - 1964-1978

The Songs That Forged Metal: Part 2 - 1979-1989