The ‘90s were good, weren’t they? So bloody good. It was the decade that gave us Forrest Gump, Dolly the sheep, Friends, the N64 and Harry Potter. It also gave us Marilyn Manson, Korn, Machine Head and Rage Against The Machine, who are still some of the biggest names in rock and metal. In the latest issue of Metal Hammer magazine we revisit the ‘90s to get the lowdown on the best albums, the scene explosions, and the stories that mattered and still matter. From black metal to grunge, it’s all covered.
And to celebrate our undying love for the ‘90s we (along with some of your favourite bands) decided to count down the 100 best songs of the decade. It took AGES. But we think this is pretty much the greatest ‘90s playlist you’re ever going to find.
Please note, we had one rule in place: Only one song per album allowed.
100. Mr Bungle – Carousel (Mr. Bungle, 1991)
99. Snot – Snot (Get Some, 1997)
98. Faith No More – The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies (King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime, 1995)
97. Testament – Riding The Snake (The Gathering, 1999)
96. Voivod – Jack Luminous (The Outer Limits, 1993)
95. Melvins – Honey Bucket (Houdini, 1993)
94. Napalm Death – Twist The Knife (Slowly) (Fear, Emptiness, Despair, 1994)
Known to most people thanks to its inclusion in the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, Twist The Knife came at a time when Napalm were once again evolving and changing into a new form. An entirely different line-up and approach it may be from the ‘classic’ Scum-era material, but this is still a typically teeth rattling 160 seconds of Napalm.
93. Queens Of The Stone Age – Avon (Queens Of The Stone Age, 1998)
92. Emperor – Thus Spake The Nightspirit (Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, 1997)
Taken from the band’s sophomore album, Thus Spake The Nightspirit is a prime example of how Ihsahn and co. were able to meld blistering, speedfreak black metal with the grandiosity of symphonic metal. Still terrifying, though.
91. Life Of Agony – Lost At 22 (Ugly, 1995)
90. Meshuggah – New Millenium Cyanide Christ (Chaosphere, 1998)
When Meshuggah dropped their sonic atom bomb on the metal scene, nobody had ever heard anything like it before. New Millennium Cyanide Christ somehow became something of a hit, which, considering it sounds like 800 pneumatic drills all being started at once, is some feat. A move they’d go on to repeat many times over their stunning career.
89. Opeth – Face Of Melinda (Still Life, 1999)
88. Metallica – Until It Sleeps (Load, 1996)
87. Corrosion Of Conformity – Dance Of The Dead (Blind, 1991)
Taken from 1991’s Blind, the first album which saw COC shed their well-worn hardcore punk skin in favour of blues-rooted heavy metal, Dance Of The Dead is a gratifyingly scuzzy blend of sludge and hard rock riffing, which keeps the band’s punk spirit alive in its pointed lyrics about “the system”.
86. Entombed – Wolverine Blues (Wolverine Blues, 1993)
By 1993 Entombed had let the filthy power of early Discharge and pure rock ‘n’ roll soak all the way into their music, creating an entirely new sub-genre of death metal that is still producing new bands to this very day. Wolverine Blues is year zero for Trap Them, Black Breath and the rest.
85. Suffocation – Infecting The Crypts (Effigy Of The Forgotten, 1991)
Suffocation are legends in New York’s metal lineage, but back in 1991 Frank Mullen and co. were just another new band in the burgeoning death metal scene. Then along came Effigy Of The Forgotten and this absolute blast of brutality. Cue a million imitators and even more sore necks.
84. Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Countdown To Extinction, 1992)
Meet the real Dave. Or at least his schizophrenic representation we hear in conversation here. Not the most intense Megadeth track of all time, but you’d be hard-pushed to find any thrasher who doesn’t know every single word to this song. No wonder it’s still in every setlist.
83. Limp Bizkit – Nookie (Significant Other, 1999)
BAND PICK: Jacob Field from The One Hundred
“Huge groove, aggressive, in your face, and relentless. It has a catchy melodic chorus, porn-like groove basslines, breakbeat verses and some of the most inappropriate lyrics. It still sounds current despite being nearly twenty years old – the song has really stood the test of time. It features everything Bizkit are; hip-hop and rock mixed perfectly.”
82. Cradle Of Filth – The Forest Whispers My Name (The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh, 1994)
Cradle’s debut album made waves throughout rock and metal almost instantly, and it’s easy to see why. Songs like The Forest Whispers My Name proved that extreme metal wasn’t just for the frozen north, but the shrieks and wails of one Dani Filth were just as dangerous and chilling as anything in Scandinavia.
81. Death – Trapped In A Corner (Individual Thought Patterns, 1993)
80. Kyuss – Gardenia (Welcome To Sky Valley, 1994)
79. Pearl Jam – Rearviewmirror (Vs., 1993)
78. Anthrax – Only (Sound Of White Noise, 1993)
77. Immortal – The Sun No Longer Rises (Pure Holocaust, 1993)
76. Electric Wizard – Wizard In Black (Come My Fanatics…, 1997)
75. Guns N’ Roses – November Rain (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)
74. Amorphis – Black Winter Day (Tales From The Thousand Lakes, 1994)
73. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger (Transilvanian Hunger, 1994)
Ridiculously lo-fi production and soul-crushing growls became the blueprint for countless black metal bands in the ‘90s and beyond, for which Darkthrone are partly responsible. However, this murky, primitive sound only adds to the powerful sense that you’re listening to something evil that probably shouldn’t be consumed by human ears.
72. Ozzy Osbourne – Mama, I’m Coming Home (No More Tears, 1991)
71. In Flames – Jotun (Whoracle, 1997)
70. Nine Inch Nails – The Day The World Went Away (The Fragile, 1999)
69. Eyehategod – Dixie Whiskey (Dopesick, 1996)
There aren’t many sounds in the world of music more disturbing than Eyehategod at their nihilistic best. Dixie Whiskey is the sound of Black Sabbath and Black Flag doing heroin in a tin bath. So basically, it’s right up there in the New Orleans back catalogue.
68. Tool – Sober (Undertow, 1993)
Awkward, uncomfortable and uncompromising, debut album Undertow is where Tool laid down the blueprint for the path of tightly-honed experimentation they would follow throughout their career. This song’s expansive guitars and poetic lyrics marked the band out as something different and special, particularly when set against the backdrop of their heavy metal contemporaries.
67. Pantera – I’m Broken (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
BAND PICK: Alex O’Leary from Bailer
“I’m Broken is one of the anthems of the ‘90s. It displays everything about them at the peak of their career. Hard hitting, in your face riffs, visceral vocals, a blistering solo and pure groove. That video, too. Lads in a room pouring out their heart and souls. Perfect!”
66. Marilyn Manson – Lunchbox (Portrait Of An American Family, 1994)
The seeds of Manson becoming Public Enemy Number One in the United States were being sown on his 1994 debut Portrait Of An American Family, and despite this not being the most terrifying song in his repertoire you just can’t deny the power of the chorus. Plus the video of a super skinny, no make-up Mazza is so ‘90s it’s still brilliant to watch today.
65. Deftones – Engine No. 9 (Adrenaline, 1995)
64. Cathedral – Hopkins (The Witchfinder General) (The Carnival Bizarre, 1995)
63. Type O Negative – Everything Dies (World Coming Down, 1999)
BAND PICK: Joseph D. Rowland from Pallbearer
“It’s perhaps their most darkly beautiful song – and Type O themselves are a virtually perfect encapsulation of a sound that is both wholly singular and wholly ‘90s.”
62. Down – Stone The Crow (NOLA, 1995)
61. Sepultura – Arise (Arise, 1991)
60. Rage Against The Machine – Guerrilla Radio (The Battle Of Los Angeles, 1999)
Rage Against The Machine just don’t write bad choruses, and Guerrilla Radio’s anthemic and cathartic release has stood the test of time so much that your local rock club still plays it. Prophets Of Rage play it live. And you probably bought Rock Band 2 just to play it. Zack De La Rocha’s signature yelps push the song forward but its the bounce and fire within that make this a real standout in Rage’s catalogue.
59. Carcass – Heartwork (Heartwork, 1993)
58. Neurosis – Locust Star (Through Silver In Blood, 1996)
The word ‘epic’ is thrown around to describe everything from YouTube videos to insurance comparison sites these days, but forget what you think you know – the true meaning of that word is locked within the heart of this track. Dense, intense, deeply affecting and avant-garde without trying too hard, this song is the sound of these Californian sludge lords realising their true potential.
57. Fear Factory – Replica (Demanufacture, 1995)
56. Strapping Young Lad – Detox (City, 1997)
BAND PICK: Tony Dolan from Venom Inc
“All you could want and more. Furiously addictive and powerfully charged, it takes no prisoners and is a brutal face frontal assault. Gloriously metallic. All hail the Townsend!”
55. Cradle Of Filth – Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids (Cruelty And The Beast, 1998)
The Filth’s first release on the heavy metal bastion of Music For Nations and a serious step up from their debut. The production more expansive, the symphonics turned up, and Dani’s vocal dexterity flourishing amongst the myriad of metallic elements. Plus the bounce on Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids is enough to get even the most wearisome metalhead tapping their feet.
54. Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark (Fear Of The Dark, 1992)
53. Paradise Lost – Hallowed Land (Draconian Times, 1995)
One of the most anthemic moments of PL’s Draconian Times album – the moment when the Yorkshire metallers went for the mainstream metal jugular. Hallowed Land rides along on a slinky riff and an imposing, yet catchy, vocal from frontman Nick Holmes.
52. Morbid Angel – Fall From Grace (Blessed Are The Sick, 1991)
51. White Zombie – More Human Than Human (Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs Of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head, 1995)
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50. Opeth – Demon Of The Fall (My Arms, Your Hearse, 1998)
49. Entombed – Left Hand Path (Left Hand Path, 1990)
Entombed hadn’t yet perfected the death ‘n’ roll formula that would make them a serious force to be reckoned with, but Left Hand Path’s title track remains one of the most gruesomely perfect pieces of Swedish death metal ever committed to tape.
48. Pantera – Floods (The Great Southern Trendkill, 1996)
47. Monster Magnet – Space Lord (Powertrip, 1998)
46. Refused – New Noise (The Shape Of Punk To Come, 1998)
45. Type O Negative – My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend (October Rust, 1996)
44. Meshuggah – Future Breed Machine (Destroy Erase Improve, 1995)
43. The Dillinger Escape Plan – 43% Burnt (Calculating Infinity, 1999)
The standard by which every band who consider themselves technical should live by. Calculating Infinity changed heavy music forever with its bonkers rhythms and time-signatures that somehow manage to form a cohesive landscape of beauty. What a band.
42. Marilyn Manson – The Dope Show (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
This is it, the moment Manson went full subversive and counter-everything. Strolling around the video in his female body suit, dyed hair and contact lenses, you either loved him or you didn’t get it. And despite the haunting visuals of Mechanical Animals era Manson, the genuine quality songcraft involved in The Dope Show and the glistening melody proves that he’s not just a shock machine.
41. Clutch – I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth (Clutch, 1995)
40. Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)
BAND PICK: Sean Harmanis from Make Them Suffer
“I picked this song because not only is it hugely nostalgic for me, but it’s a song that I’ve come to appreciate more as time has passed. When I initially heard this song, truthfully I didn’t think much of it. I found the orchestral elements a little cheesy. As I’ve grown older however, this tune has become something of an anthem for me. It’s an absolute must in the Pumpkins discography and I believe Tonight, Tonight is the best song of the ‘90s because of it’s ability to age like a fine wine.”
39. Slayer – Dead Skin Mask (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
The ‘90s weren’t kind to thrash metal, but there were some diamonds in the rough, and this chilling track about notorious serial killer Ed Gein sits amongst some of Slayer’s best material. Tom Araya’s urgent snarls soar over the more expansive and less frantic guitars that we grew accustomed to in the ‘80s. It’s wonderful.
38. Faith No More – Midlife Crisis (Angel Dust, 1992)
37. Korn – Falling Away From Me (Issues, 1999)
As soon as you hear that guitar intro you know that shit is about to go down. The inherent groove that backs the haunting verses has soundtracked countless nights out, but there’s nothing like THAT chorus for cathartic release. Korn really are masters of the build.
36. Cannibal Corpse – Hammer Smashed Face (Tomb Of The Mutilated, 1992)
35. Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing (Ritual De Lo Habitual, 1990)
34. Darkthrone – A Blaze In The Northern Sky (A Blaze In The Northern Sky, 1992)
33. Tool – Stinkfist (Ænima, 1996)
32. Mayhem – Freezing Moon (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, 1994)
31. Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box (In Utero, 1993)
30. Ministry – Jesus Built My Hotrod (Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way to Suck Eggs, 1992)
29. Guns N’ Roses – You Could Be Mine (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
28. At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul (Slaughter Of The Soul, 1995)
27. Pearl Jam – Alive (Ten, 1991)
26. Rage Against The Machine – Bulls On Parade (Evil Empire, 1996)
BAND PICK: Briton Bond from Wage War
“To this day, I don’t think I’ve heard a more angry song. There are a lot of bands out there that try write angry music, but I think Rage had the perfect formula for what was going on at that time. I don’t think we’ll see another band like this for a long time.”
25. The Prodigy – Firestarter (The Fat Of The Land, 1997)
24. Soundgarden – Jesus Christ Pose (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
23. Rob Zombie – Dragula (Hellbilly Deluxe, 1998)
22. Body Count – Cop Killer (Body Count, 1992)
21. Korn – Freak On A Leash (Follow The Leader, 1998)
Don’t pretend that you don’t know all the words to Jonathan Davis’ scatting. The song that cemented Korn’s legacy as a band who don’t just write angsty aural attacks but they can write anthems. And it’s probably the best example of the Bakersfield boys’ guitar/bass trade-off when it comes to writing bouncing yet uncomfortable melodies.
20. Rammstein – Du Hast (Sehnsucht, 1997)
19. Judas Priest – Painkiller (Painkiller, 1990)
18. Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (Chaos A.D., 1993)
BAND PICK: Larissa Stupar from Venom Prison
“When it was released I must have been four years old. I discovered Sepultura through Slipknot when I was browsing Roadrunner Records to find new bands to listen to. Sepultura have influenced me more than I first realised, it’s probably the first band with political content that I was aware of.”
17. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (Cowboys From Hell, 1990)
BAND PICK: Alex Canion from Voyager
“Cowboys from Hell encapsulates Pantera to a tee. Brash and confident; this song writes the book on how to use hooks, melody and groove in the genre of metal. The addictive main riff can be still be heard being playing in guitar shops, even 27 years after its release!”
16. Emperor – I Am the Black Wizards (In The Nightside Eclipse, 1994)
Arguably Emperor’s most famous song, and for good reason. The penultimate track on the band’s debut album, it’s a six-minute flurry of destruction and violence with barely a pause for breath. Ihsahn’s barbaric howls and barks are still some of the best in the game, and it’s his first foray into the darker realms that truly showcase his vocal ability.
15. Megadeth – Hangar 18 (Rust In Peace, 1990)
Mustaine was hitting his stride in the early ‘90s and Rust In Peace still holds up as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. Based around UFO conspiracy theories, it’s a runaway train of thrash metal with ripping guitar lines and fist-pounding drums that make you want to run through a wall screaming about the existence of aliens.
14. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
If you don’t like this song there is probably something wrong with you music senses. The military industrialism is a far cry from his debut album but the spookiness and coolness has been turned up to eleven. Practically oozing aggression, this song puts one fist up and one in the face of conformity, creating a generation of devout followers in the process.
13. Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove It) (Around The Fur, 1997)
BAND PICK: Carl Gethin from Fire Red Empress
“This track seemed to come out of nowhere and was just a great song! Deftones always seem to get lumped in with nu metal, but they have so much more about them than that. The contrast between the ethereal vocals and the nasty riffs is perfect. They were a huge influence on us.”
12. Alice In Chains – Rooster (Dirt, 1992)
BAND PICK: Elijah Witt from Cane Hill
“I know it’s their ‘mainstream hit’ which could make it fuckin’ ‘lame’ for me to choose it, but it blew them even further into the mainstream, and no matter what any prick says about selling out and reaching mainstream audiences, it’s a fucking beautiful moment when underground music gets recognition from the normies. That means you’re doing something so right! Not only the freaks like you get it, but the people who aren’t outwardly admitting they’re problematic because it isn’t cool relate to your art. An on top of that it’s what got me into Alice – a band that helped me find, and be happy with, myself.”
11. System Of A Down – Sugar (System Of A Down, 1998)
10. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind, 1991)
BAND PICK: Greg Kubacki from Car Bomb
“Seriously, is there any other answer? All of those spandex sweat shops, hairspray factories, Yngwie Malmsteen VHS instructional video duplication centres – that whole ecosystem of hair metal was completely destroyed overnight with four simple chords and Kurt’s voice. I can’t think of another song that came out of nowhere like that and single-handedly annihilated a whole genre of music.”
9. Slipknot – (sic) (Slipknot, 1999)
BAND PICK: Ben Bruce from Asking Alexandria
“While the song was released at the very end of the ‘90s, I feel it is one of the best metal songs of the era. The song is just so aggressive and so energetic, it’s unlike anything else from the ‘90s, and still holds it weight almost 20 years later.”
8. Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun (Superunknown, 1994)
7. Nine Inch Nails – Closer (The Downward Spiral, 1994)
6. Metallica – Sad But True (Metallica, 1991)
BAND PICK: Tobias Young from Our Hollow, Our Home
“The first time I heard the main riff to Sad But True, I felt like I’d been hit in the face by a train. Repeatedly. And it felt mighty fine. The Black Album slays, but for me Sad But True is the train-shaped icing on the cake.”
5. Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots (Roots, 1996)
The definitive Sepultura song and Max Cavalera’s finest moment as a musician. There’s nothing like bellowing the chorus out as loud as your lungs can manage, while immersing yourself in the tribal sounds inspired by indigenous Brazilian tribes.
4. Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name (Rage Against The Machine, 1991)
3. Machine Head – Davidian (Burn My Eyes, 1994)
It’s often said that grunge killed metal, but that would be bollocks. Machine Head’s debut album Burn My Eyes is pretty much flawless and the opening track is a real statement of intent. The unrelenting thrash that’s fuelled by a neck-breaking groove and Robb Flynn’s signature bark is just one of the many reasons Machine Head are still kicking arse over 20 years later.
2. Pantera – Walk (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
BAND PICK: Vogg from Decapitated
“That song brought a new level of groove, heaviness and power to the metal scene, and completely changed it forever. That track has been a huge inspiration for thousands of musicians – specifically for me as a guitar player and songwriter.”
1. Korn – Blind (Korn, 1994)
ARE YOUUUUU READDDYYYYYY??? The opener to Korn’s debut album and a quintessential part of every nu metal playlist for the next 20 years. That slack bass-line alone is enough reason to include this song, but when you factor in Jonathan Davis’ nightmarish vocals and the impact that both had on metal for the next decade and beyond, it’s not hyperbolic to say Blind was a game-changer.
Words by: Luke Morton, Briony Edwards, Fraser Lewry, Polly Glass, Sian Llewellyn, Merlin Alderslade, Eleanor Goodman, Jonathan Selzer and Stephen Hill.