Grunge was still grabbing the headlines in 1994, but metal was fighting back courtesy of Machine Head and Pantera. Norway’s Emperor and Mayhem cut through the headlines and forced the world to take black metal seriously, while iin California Korn were giving birth to whole new sound with their debut album. This is the soundtrack to 12 tumultuous months.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Consequences, Addicted To Chaos, Reckoning 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.
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
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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.
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.
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.