The year grunge took over the world? Not really. Metal was as healthy as it had ever been in 1992. But things were changing: while old masters Iron Maiden returned with Fear Of The Dark, it would be the last album to feature Bruce Dickinson for almost a decade. Luckily, a new generation of metal bands were ready to pick up the torch, from Pantera and Alice In Chains to alt-metallers Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine. Here are the 20 best albums from that rollercoaster year.
Alice In Chains - Dirt
Alice In Chains' debut album, Facelift (opens in new tab), was grunge’s first mainstream hit, opening the door commercially for Nirvana's Nevermind (opens in new tab), Pearl Jam's Ten (opens in new tab) and Soundgarden (opens in new tab)'s Badmotorfinger (opens in new tab) to steo through.
But everything was just about to get darker – a whole lot darker – with AIC's follow-up record, Dirt. Heavy, bleak and brutally self-lacerating, Dirt was AIC’s epic junkie confessional. Sadly, it’d prove all too prophetic for Layne Staley.
Body Count- Body Count
Never a man afraid of a challenge, Ice-T formed Body Count (opens in new tab) at the peak of his hip-hop fame and went for it like a man possessed. Notorious for the LAPD-baiting Cop Killer (replaced on later pressings by a collaboration with Jello Biafra), Body Count were occasionally shambolic but colossally entertaining, as Ice’s verbal skills erupted over brutish street-metal riffing. Fans of socially-conscious lyrics might wish to venture elsewhere, mind you.
Cannibal Corpse - Tomb Of The Mutilated
The macabre album cover, despicable song titles and out-of-leftfield cameo in a Jim Carrey film all added to Cannibal Corpse (opens in new tab)’s notoriety, but it’s the sheer quality of Tomb Of The Mutilated that cement its status. Backed by the monumental weight of Hammer Smashed Face’s riffs, Post Mortal Ejaculation’s sickening undercurrent and I Cum Blood’s grinding atmosphere the band firmly nailed their grisly banner atop extreme metal’s flagpole.
Darkthrone - A Blaze In The Northern Sky
A Blaze… signalled Darkthrone (opens in new tab)’s conversion from modern, technical death metal to ‘80s inspired black metal and was actually the first full-length Norwegian black metal album.
In fact, Blaze contains quite a lot of death metal alongside the more Celtic Frost (opens in new tab)-inspired material, and the combination of wall-to-wall riffs and unholy atmosphere still inspires fans and musicians today.
Dream Theater – Images And Words
Dream Theater (opens in new tab) had to overcome a number of hurdles in order to create their second album, and their masterpiece. But with new vocalist James LaBrie safely in the fold, the prog metal pioneers were out to prove a point. And they did.
Images And Words combined the band’s ferocious musicianship with a canny knack for a song – albeit usually a very long, complicated one – the epic Pull Me Under being a case in point.
Images And Words did far more than just enable Dream Theater to let in a vital chink of daylight. In fact its start-to-finish excellence served to open up a skylight to the cosmos.
Exhorder – The Law
We could waste a few weeks arguing whether it was Pantera or Exhorder (opens in new tab) that truly first coined the groove metal sound (NB: it was Exhorder), but even the most devout Dimebag acolyte would have to admit that both of the New Orleans (opens in new tab) crew’s first two studio albums rip like absolute bastards (and last year’s Mourn The Southern Skies was even better!). The Law is more muscular and dark than seminal debut Slaughter In The Vatican, but you can take your pick from either for groove metal destruction at its most vicious.
Faith No More - Angel Dust
Faith No More (opens in new tab) made a lot of great albums. But with Angel Dust they made one hell of a masterpiece.
Angel Dust’s music is worlds away from anything Faith No More had previously put their name to. Just describing it is difficult – a twitchy, erratic symphony that spins through different movements and moods, always on edge. There isn’t a second in Angel Dust that isn’t crammed with whirling ideas and clashing sounds. But the band had lost no aptitude for melody either. The whole thing resounds with these combinations.
A lovely metaphor for the visceral artistry of Angel Dust can be found in the album’s sleeve art. On the front cover is a beautiful image of a swan emerging from an azure background. On the rear: skinned animals and chopped-up meat. Even now, after listening to Angel Dust, other rock music suddenly seems to have far fewer ideas.
Godflesh – Pure
Exhuming a suicidal stomp similar to Ministry’s Filth Pig, well, years before Filth Pig was even conceived, Godflesh’s influence upon the scene also bears great importance. Channelling a much more downtrodden, doomy approach that harks back to fellow Brummies Black Sabbath (opens in new tab), the ‘Flesh brought forward a unique racket that was further aided by frontman Justin Broadrick’s stint with grind legends Napalm Death. 1992’s Pure was sprinkled with hints of the extreme; while Ministry were swanning about on the Lollapalooza main stage, it was Godflesh who seemed to be retaining the underground ethics of the genre.
Helmet – Meantime
Post-hardcore (opens in new tab), post-noise rock, post-everything, really, Helmet’s signature staccato riffs and nods to jazz and groove-metal cemented them as one of the most eccentric and influential metal bands of the era. Their influence on nu-metal is massive yet never really talked about, which could be down to the fact that Helmet (opens in new tab) didn’t just create in massive concrete block riffs, they also dealt in arty, avant-garde passages of noise.
Iron Maiden - Fear Of The Dark
Bruce Dickinson capped his original run with what would prove to be Iron Maiden (opens in new tab)’s finest album of the 90s. The title track remains one of the great crowd pleasers and a live staple.
History hasn't been hugely kind to this album, and many detractors will no doubt snort at its inclusion here, while some fans continue to defend it as one of Maiden's best. As always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle: As with The X-Factor, there is half a classic Iron Maiden album in here somewhere.
Only the most cloth-eared of people don’t love that title track, of course, and you can take your pick from Afraid To Shoot Strangers, Childhood’s End, Fear Is The Key and the criminally overlooked Judas Be My Guide for a song of equal quality.