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The 50 best metal albums of the last 50 years

The 1990s: When metal got creative. From melodeath to grunge, bands pushed heavy music to another level and infiltrated the mainstream.

Alice In Chains - Facelift (1990)

Chosen By: Elijah Witt (Cane Hill)

“This is the pre-Dirt era Alice In Chains, and I think that Layne Staley shines so much more. With Facelift, you have this very grungy Led Zeppelin vibe that I don’t think you get from the rest of their albums. I feel the pain in Layne’s voice and that suffering more on this record, and I could just listen to it over and over for the rest of my life.

“I think I was in a car driving somewhere when I first heard it. From the first time I heard it to now, its impact on me is instantaneous. It’s emotionally gripping – it leaves me feeling pain, it leaves me thinking about all the heartache and depression that I’ve had, which is what I relish and love to do. I think everyone in the metal scene should have heard it, and it absolutely affected me as a vocalist and lyricist. If I didn’t have Layne as an inspiration, I don’t honestly know how I would sound or write.”

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Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss album cover

Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

Chosen by: Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth)

“Choosing the greatest album of the last 50 years is impossible. I can think of at least 20 that qualify, but since we’re going for one album I’ll throw my dart and say Seasons In The Abyss by Slayer. Why? Well, the short answer is: it’s Slayer. The slightly longer answer is: it’s FUCKING Slayer!

“I’m not sure I can say that Seasons In The Abyss is more of a landmark than any of Slayer’s earlier releases, but in my opinion it’s the ultimate thrash album. From start to finish this is an awesome album. All the songs are hits. The atmosphere goes from eerie and evil to flat-out aggression in both music and lyrics. 

“The first time I heard it, it blew me away. The first song I heard was Dead Skin Mask, and I played that on repeat for the longest time. And then I saw the video for Seasons In The Abyss, of course. Amazing. Back then, Slayer were already an iconic band, and I think that this album didn’t so much impact the scene as cement them as the ultimate thrash band. It’s hard to say exactly how this album has influenced our music, but we are all massive Slayer fans and no doubt their music has influenced us in one way or another.”

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Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)

Chosen by: Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)

“Soundgarden were pioneers of their style. They emerged from the grunge scene but made music that was far more sophisticated, all the while maintaining the raw and stripped-down production. Badmotorfinger isn’t traditional metal, but when you really listen to it, pick apart the time signatures, the riffs, the vocals and the lyrics, it is an all-round excellent album and very heavy.

“I was just starting high school when I heard Badmotorfinger. My first exposure to Soundgarden was the video for Jesus Christ Pose – I remember not totally understanding what I was watching and listening to, but really digging it. That is a super-heavy song, actually.

“The overall vibe of the album is unmatched. Chris Cornell’s vocals shine here like nowhere else. He’s up there with Freddie Mercury in terms of having a perfect balance of character, chaos and charisma in his natural vocal tone. It took a while before I realised how much he impacted on me as a musician, a vocalist and a lyricist. He was one of the few artists who can do no wrong in my book. I’m sure they could be still touring and hitting the festival scene like Alice In Chains if he were still with us.”

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Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

Chosen by: Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil)

“I started listening to Pantera around 1991. The first time I heard them was when I was in a metal pub in Milan – the DJ was playing stuff like Paradise Lost and Clawfinger, and then Pantera came on and I was, like, ‘Wow.’

Vulgar Display Of Power has so many classic songs on it: Walk, Mouth For War, A New Level… and the music was amazing, but there was such a power to them as a band. It wasn’t just the frontman or the guitarist who was the star – it was a whole band where everyone had their own importance. Every member of that band was a character. But there was no other singer like Phil Anselmo. He was in control of every stage he was on.

“I wouldn’t say Pantera have been a huge influence on Lacuna Coil, but this is still an important record for me. Great albums stay with you forever because they remind you of a certain period in your life. And that period was really happy for me – it was all about partying with friends, and this was the perfect soundtrack.” 

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Faith No More - Angel Dust (1992)

Chosen by: Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage)

Angel Dust is still one of the most diverse metal/rock records you will ever hear. It pushed the boundaries of what you can do with a voice. Mike Patton had done it on previous records of course, but Angel Dust by Faith No More is the one that offered so much creativity to how a song could be written and what you could do with a voice. 

“I first heard it when I was just into high school. I just couldn’t get enough – I memorised all the lyrics, I used to sing it with my friends. It changed my life and the way I saw music – it made me excited to try new things as a musician. As a hardcore punk, all I did was scream, but this is the first band that made me want to sing, and figure out how I was gonna do that. 

“It changed everything – especially for people of my generation. If you drop Mike Patton’s name to any musician, it doesn’t matter if they’re a fan or not, they just have to respect the man, and that’s all due to Angel Dust. You get the Mr. Bungle fans of course, but to me it doesn’t touch Angel Dust – it’s by far Patton’s superior work, instrumentally and vocally.”

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Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine (1992)

Chosen by Winston McCall (Parkway Drive)

“I don’t know if it even qualifies as a heavy metal album, but that’s because I don’t know what it qualifies as. If you look at the impact it had on metal, guitar music and aggressive music, it was influential to everything, and it’s heavy as fuck. The way Tom Morello uses the guitar on that album, it’s up there on Jimi Hendrix’s level. They had to put a disclaimer on to say there weren’t synths on it! It’s bonkers.

“When it came out, my friend played it to me, and Killing In The Name was in the Australian charts. The amount of emotion and genuine vitriol in that song scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t scary in the same way as listening to Slayer or Metallica – which is horror-movie scary – it was more like ‘this is a human that’s cracked’. The raw nature of the recording only adds to it. It is such a genuine piece of art that at no point do you doubt the anger. There’s no character that takes you to another world or a front to hide behind; it’s pure human rage that does exactly what the name says. It’s rage against the machine.”

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Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses (1993)

Chosen by: Jami Morgan (Code Orange)

“I think Type O Negative managed to get that balance of theatrics and being super-serious; it just has everything. I think it’s pretty much the gold standard for what records are aiming for. Every note on every song is just so perfect, just so methodical.

“I’m not sure exactly where or when I first heard them, but it was when I was very young… but I did get to meet the two guys from Silvertomb [Johnny Kelly and Kenny Hickey] once randomly, and you can just feel how down-to-earth they are. And I think that plays into how much respect I have for them, because you know they were part of this really dark, depressive, monster of a band. And you hear these stories about how they had to use a certain shade of green and they were really anal about exactly how everything looked, and they would go crazy if it was a little off, and then you meet them and they’re really laidback dudes. So you know that their art meant everything to them; that’s a cool juxtaposition. I don’t think anyone has ever done anything like Type O Negative before, and I don’t think anyone will ever achieve anything else like it again.”

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Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)

Chosen by: Joey Jordison (Sinsaenum)

“I remember buying De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas a few months after it came out, and it was the equivalent of when I got Reign In Blood. It was such a hugely influential record on me and on music as a whole – it’s a blueprint for so much black metal.

“Of course, with the history of Mayhem and the tragedies that surrounded them, it’s more than just a record. It’s a book. It’s so tied in with the individuals who made it and the time when they made it. You’re not just listening to music, you’re listening to a lifestyle. It’s not just the riffs or the drumming or the vocals – it’s something more than that. It’s got an atmosphere that’s totally alien, absolutely engulfing. When you put it on, you’re instantly transported somewhere else.

“Just like Reign In Blood is the ultimate thrash metal record, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is the ultimate black metal record. People have tried to copy it and rip it off a ton of times, but no one has come close. No-one will ever beat it.”

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The 3rd And The Mortal - Tears Laid In Earth (1994)

Chosen by: Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish)

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Nightwish wouldn’t exist without this band. They were from Norway and were categorised as ‘atmospheric metal’ – they were very doomy, melodic, dark, not at all symphonic, but with a beautiful female voice. I heard them, and thought, ‘I want to do something similar.’

“This was their first album. I was 17 years old when I heard a song called Why So Lonely on the radio in Finland. There was a lot of darkness in my life at that point, and I related to that. And the next week I went out and bought the CD. It took me to a whole different world – it was so beautiful and so dark. And when you combine those two things, that’s the kind of music I like.

“They only made four albums before splitting up, and none of them really sound like this – they went more experimental and jazzy. But the most incredible thing happened four years ago. We played a festival in their hometown, and the promoter knew my obsession with them, so he brought the whole original line-up backstage to meet me. They hadn’t seen each other for 12 years. It was emotional for everybody.”

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Meshuggah - Chaosphere (1998)

Chosen by: Carpenter Brut

“For me, this album is the best definition of what metal should be. It’s cerebral, difficult to understand, without compromise, violent in its singing, cold – a ‘tunnel with no lights’. 

“At the time, no other band had released such an implacable and cold album, so massive and rhythmically sick… and crazy. I was in high school when it came out. If you were looking to stand out from the crowd, it was perfect, since few people could understand what was going on musically. 

“Its impact on me was immediate, like a good old-fashioned punch in the face. Meshuggah always influence me, even now, because they’re a measure of what is classy and what isn’t. Obviously, it’s less evident in my music since it’s far from being as surgical as what they do.

Chaosphere turned the metal scene right around because it had a style that had never been heard before. In my opinion, it influenced a whole scene that was much less interesting. Bands put everything into the rhythmics while adding ugly melody parts in order to not just copy/paste Meshuggah’s work, but the soul of this band makes them untouchable. It’s not by imitating Meshuggah that one becomes Meshuggah.”

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