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The 100 best metal albums of the 90s

Cannibal Corpse - The Bleeding

Death metal was on the wane by ’94, but no one told Cannibal Corpse: their killer fourth album added brains to the blood and gore.

Before parting to form Six Feet Under and taking the original band logo with him, Chris Barnes helped helm some of the most horrifyingly violent and undeniably catchy anthems in the band’s arsenal. 

Who else could be so acclaimed for creating a song as contemptible as Stripped, Raped And Strangled?

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Emperor - In The Nightside Eclipse

Norwegian black metal in the early 90s was a far different beast to the polished, unit-shifting phenomenon we’re used to these days. Churches were burned to the ground; graves were desecrated; and at least three homicides were connected with the scene.

At the centre of the soon-to-be-circus were Emperor. But with their 1994 debut album, black metal’s leading lights grew up quickly, bringing symphonic ambition to the crepuscular murk.

Not many people will argue against the case that Emperor are the greatest black metal band of all time, or that they raised the genre into new realms of art. In The Nightside Eclipse amplified black metal’s invocation of otherness as it imprinted the inhuman on an immeasurably vast and majestic canvas. 

Keyboards swirled like avenging angels of death, guitars surged as if attempting to reach escape velocity from this mortal realm and Emperor tore open new spaces that drew in innumerable voyagers in their wake.

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Korn - Korn

To call Korn’s self-titled debut a game changer would be a bit of an understatement – the album that jumpstarted the nu metal revolution sounded like nothing that had come before it. Its influence can still be heard today.

The record transformed the landscape of alternative music through the 90s and the 00s. And as for Korn, their career as modern metal's standard bearers was set. One tumultuous career and over 25 years later, they're still carrying the flame. 

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Kyuss - Welcome To Sky Valley

In the sweltering depths of the Californian desert, something was stirring in the early 90s. A community of musicians, brought up on the stodgy sludge of classic Black Sabbath and the mind-warping psychedelia of The Doors, would routinely get together and have ‘generator parties’ in the heart of the desert. From that scene rose myriad stoner rock bands, but only one were the kings: Kyuss. Their legend was cemented on Welcome To Sky Valley, their third album and major label debut.

It’s impossible to emphasise just how monolithic the guitar riffs of Josh Homme sounded back in 1994, but the fact that Kyuss still sound like the rumble of an earthquake and the power of a tornado happening at once should give some insight into why …Sky Valley connected so strongly. 

The fact that Kyuss not only managed to sound as exciting and contemporary as any other modern band, while leaning so heavily on the tropes of the past, but were clearly totally disinterested in playing the music business game, is why fans of the time still continue to speak about Welcome To Sky Valley in the sort of hushed tones reserved for gods and royalty. At this point in time, with their legend and legacy still intact, one listen to this should be enough to convince you that it’s justified.

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Machine Head - Burn My Eyes

In a year of game-changing albums, Burn My Eyes was truly one for the ages. Inspired by riots, religious cults and a desire to push the boundaries of heavy music, its impact was nothing short of monstrous. 

Released by Roadrunner Records on August 9, 1994, it was hailed as an instant classic and became the label’s biggest-selling debut ever (an accolade it retained until Slipknot’s breakthrough in ’99). 

With its ground-breaking blend of thuggish grooves, vicious thrash and hip hop bravado, not to mention frontman Robb Flynn’s incendiary lyrics, Burn My Eyes did more than most to redefine metal in the 90s. 

The album’s impact was immediate, particularly in the UK and Europe, but until those sales figures rolled in, Robb remained unsure whether the band had a bright future. But 25 years on, few fans – nor Robb himself – would dispute the enduring power of an album which went on to truly change the mould. 

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Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Mayhem are one of the most influential black metal bands on the planet, and their album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas remains a timeless classic.

Mayhem's boldest album was almost overshadowed by the death of mainman Euronymous. Yet the biggest testament to its artistic value is perhaps the fact that discussion of its recording, songwriting and performance qualities continues to outweigh the highly notable circumstances of its creation.

Sinister and menacing, this was a fitting epitaph.

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Megadeth - Youthanasia

Many fans baulked at Megadeth’s deliberate drift into less thrashy, more radio-friendly mainstream territory, but with hindsight Youthanasia is a very strong record and one that makes a lot more sense than the similarly-inclined but genuinely dreadful Super Collider

Some of the band’s finest ‘90s cuts are contained within: Train Of ConsequencesAddicted To ChaosReckoning Day and A Tout Le Monde are all certified monsters and Blood Of Heroes is one of the great unsung Megadeth tunes.

Their last truly great album for more than a decade.

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Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

The point where Trent Reznor went from snotty electro-punk to industrial metal emperor, one man’s fucked-up mind has never sounded so cool.

Recorded at the address where actress Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, The Downward Spiral paints a chilling portrait of societal, moral and personal collapse.

Influenced by David Bowie’s Low, and constructed from heavily processed guitar sounds, glacial electronics and distorted samples, its nightmarish atmospherics are enhanced by Reznor’s man-on-the-edge musings on religion, addiction, degradation and despair.

The Downward Spiral is unremittingly bleak, utterly believable and unquestionably Reznor’s finest hour.

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Pantera - Far Beyond Driven

The follow-up to Vulgar Display Of Power made its predecessor sound like Mr Blobby. Still the heaviest album to reach Number One in the US, it rocketed the band’s seemingly never-ending touring schedule into the arenas. 

With Far Beyond Driven, Pantera had truly arrived. Sure, the songs aren’t quite as good as those featured on Vulgar Display Of Power, and in the likes of Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills and their inclusion of a cover of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan there are even hints Pantera might be running out of ideas. 

But the likes of Strength Beyond Strength, the Grammy-nominated I’m Broken and the quite malevolent Slaughtered proved that Pantera were still adept at creating near-lethal metal. Commercially they’d never be as big again, but the cracks would soon show.

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Soundgarden - Superunknown

A critical and commercial hit, Superunknown catapulted Soundgarden into the mainstream without them compromising any of their artistic integrity. Their pallet might have had more colours than had been displayed on previous albums like the muscular Louder Than Love, and there were psychedelic echoes in some of the record’s grooves, but in songs like Let Me Drown and Like Suicide Soundgarden’s pile-driver approach endured. 

The album was informed by Sylvia Plath’s poetry, and the album’s smash hit Black Hole Sun came with a video that felt like the bleakest of acid trips.

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At The Gates - Slaughter Of The Soul

The influence of Slaughter Of The Soul can be heard in a vast amount of metal from the last 20 years, not least the entire post-Killswitch metalcore movement in the US. 

A flawless masterpiece that hammered home how distinctive At The Gates’ sound was, and how brutally effective it could be, this album was the pinnacle of the Gothenburg sound and the album that launched a thousand imitators – even if no one has come close to the original.

Massive tunes, terrifying levels of aggression and precision… it’s an all-time heavy metal classic.

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Deftones - Adrenaline

One of the great debuts of the 90s. 

Nu metal wasn’t a thing until Korn and Deftones arrived on the scene and changed everything. Whilst both bands were responsible for shifting metal’s aesthetics, Korn dealt purely in nihilism, pain and brutality. Whereas Deftones on Adrenaline showcased influences from gangster rap to skate punk. 

Songs like Bored and 7 Words became anthems of youthful alienation for a whole new group of kids, who were bored of grunge and wanted their own sound. They soon got it.

This album was smart, inventive and unique.

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Down - NOLA

Make no mistake, it was a big deal when Down got together – a supergroup consisting of members of Pantera, Corrosion Of Conformity and Eyehategod, completed by guitarist Kirk Windstein and bassist Todd Strange of Crowbar.

Straight from the swamps of New Orleans, Down brought a new sludgy groove to heavy metal. More than just Phil Anselmo’s side-project, their dope-smoke-wreathed grooves were where his heart really lay.

Born in a storm, NOLA keeps swimming to this day, discovered and rediscovered over two generations. A stoner rock classic – hell, a rock classic, period.

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Faith No More - King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime

An often underrated classic, King For A Day... is easily the most "challenging" album Faith No More ever produced. Musically it was cleaved right down the middle, alternating between ice cold cooler-than-cool lounge funk and frighteningly ugly jackhammer thrash-punk. 

Although the band were perceived to have lost a crucial component in the departure of Jim Martin – the ‘metal-or-nothing’ bespectacled monster who anchored FNM in the rock arena – Mr Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance makes the existing heavy bits in FNM’s sound 10 times heavier, and the cheesy bits, uh, cheesier. 

Evidence is beautiful liquid soul, while Just A Man is anthemic funk-pumped cabaret, but the flip side to this set-piece whimsy is demonic, neurotic whirlwinds such as Ugly In The Morning – Patton flipping painlessly between soft soul-boy crooning and gibbering, demented, frenzied ecstasy.

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Fear Factory - Demanufacture

On their 1995 sophomore release, Demanufacture, Fear Factory refined and sanded down the rougher elements of their sound. The results were simply groundbreaking. 

There isn’t a wasted moment on this virtually flawless LP; from the kick drum extravaganza Self Bias Resistor to the contorting synth-infused New Breed – the band compress their steely sound into burning molten rock. But the best song plaudits go to the devastating metal classic Replica for its effortless balance of melody and dissonance. 

The nodes aligned perfectly on Demanufacture, leaving an indelible mark on the decade and remaining to this day one of the most forward-thinking metal albums ever created: a bleak view of a dystopian future that still hits home with the force of a piston factory.

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Life Of Agony - Ugly

Helmed by streetwise hardcore kid Mina Caputo – then going by the name Keith – Life Of Agony channelled their inner pain on their second album, and there was a lot of it. 

Dark, grungy melodies swirled around angsty lyrics about a person desperate to find their own path without giving into conformity. This downbeat, outsider alt-metal would become the New York quartet’s hallmark.

A masterpiece of cathartic misery.

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Meshuggah - Destroy Erase Improve

The point where Meshuggah perfected the formula… and it was magnificent. 

Years ahead of its time and still proving a fertile hunting ground for countless bands to borrow and rip-off ideas from, Destroy Erase Improve saw the Swedes take the ideas explored on the previous year’s None EP and engineer a futuristic, innovative metallic form that changed metal forever. 

Mindbogglingly brilliant. The rest of the world is still playing catch-up.

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Monster Magnet - Dopes To Infinity

It was 1995. Grunge was wearing woefully thin and nu-metal was lurking just around the corner

Someone needed to blast a hole through this wall of mumbling self-pity and sexless whining, preferably using a giant raygun full of drugs, nudity and mind-bending space rock anthems. So, who you gonna call?

Acid-spiked riffs and Dave Wyndorf’s mind-melting worldview combined on MM’s nuclear-powered trip through the cosmos. Trans-dimensional stoner metal.

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Paradise Lost - Draconian Times

90s British metal bands lagged behind their US and Euro counterparts. But with this commercial breakthrough, Paradise Lost proved they could step up. 

Draconian Times was released in June 1995 to enormous expectation – the buzz built up around the band over the previous few years now erupted into a full Messianic chorus of acclaim.

A culmination of the various sounds they’d developed with their previous four albums the band lashed a sludging doom-laden heaviness to melancholic, dark principles, and a new PL was born.

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White Zombie - Astro-Creep: 2000

Rob Zombie’s crazed B-movie vision came to stadium-sized fruition on his band’s final album. A helluva of a way to bow out.

An album that was heavier on the industrial influences than their previous work, it was at the same time catchier and more instantaneous than they had ever been. 

But the most startling thing was just how good, how crisp, shiny and enormous White Zombie now sounded – like experiencing them in Technicolor for the first time. The credit for that goes to Pantera producer Terry Date in a major way, who employed the same tactics as he did on their Vulgar Display Of Power album to make the band pop and crack in all the right places.

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