The Top 10 best albums of 1990

Alice In Chains - Facelift

Alice In Chains' debut album, Facelift, was the first blockbuster grunge album – the first grunge album to leave an impression on the charts, thanks to the success of unexpected hit single Man In The Box.

It was also one of the most influential. Its steely riffs and haunting harmonies were imitated but never bettered, capturing the spirit of a changing age and paving the way for Nevermind, Ten and Badmotorfinger,

Death - Spiritual Healing

Death’s third album was a courageous endeavour that marked a period of transition from their adolescent rawness into technical proficiency - a progression largely influenced by the recruitment of seminal shredder, James Murphy. 

Along with the stylistic evolution, Spiritual Healing also brought about a change in mainman Chuck Schuldiner’s lyrical ideas from gore into more humanist and religious themes. A valiant artistic exploration which would find itself refined further in the albums to follow. 

Deicide - Deicide

Good old Glen Benton. While other death metal bands merely talked about evil, the Deicide frontman really threw himself into it, even branding his own forehead with an inverted cross. Deicide’s debut album sounded exactly how an album made by an actual maniac should sound. Complex but vicious and dripping with anti-Christian vitriol, Satan bloody loved it.

Entombed - Left Hand Path

Progenitors of the now infamous “buzzsaw” sound that set the Swedes apart from the Americans in the early ‘90s, Entombed had catchier riffs, a penchant for horror schlock and an underlying punkiness that made their debut album vastly sharper and more memorable than most. Not just brutal and dark, Left Hand Path was full of genuinely great tunes.

Jane’s Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual

Like the Tibetan monks who create paintings out of sand and then throw them into the river, bands have a habit of unleashing their finest work and then imploding. It’s perverse, it’s wilful and it’s tremendously rock’n’roll. 

Fitting, then, that Ritual… was JA’s swansong, because it espouses those values in spades. The whole record, from blistering opener Stop through back-to-back epics Three Days and Then She Did to Classic Girl’s spectral coda, is one gigantic ‘fuck you’; a toxic brew of funk, jazz and metal held together by an extraordinary performance from vocalist and bandleader Perry Farrell.

Judas Priest - Painkiller

The end of Rob Halford’s first period as Judas Priest frontman arrived shortly after the release of one of their greatest albums. Painkiller rips from start to finish and single-handedly redefined the sound of traditional heavy metal in the process. There are literally hundreds of bands out there peddling this exact same sound, but no one will ever top the original. And that title track… holy fucking shit.

Megadeth - Rust In Peace

Something magical happened when core Megadeth duo  Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson joined forces with guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza. Rust In Peace is one of those albums: a masterpiece with no obvious flaws, not an ounce of filler or flab and some of the most obscenely thrilling moments in all of recorded metal history. Holy Wars… The Punishment Due, Hangar 18 and Tornado Of Souls may be the obvious highlights, but the entire record still leaps from the speakers 26 years later, sounding supremely arrogant and startlingly powerful. But beyond its hallowed contents, Rust In Peace is a seminal work because it completely upgraded metal’s sonic vocabulary, heroically raising levels of precision, technicality and compositional suss and kick-starting the ‘90s with a sustained blast of immaculate, state-of-the-art savagery that continues to send shockwaves through the metal world today.

Pantera - Cowboys From Hell

Breakthrough album or ‘real’ debut release, it depends on your point of view. Either way, there’s absolutely no doubt about the impact Cowboys From Hell had on Pantera and on heavy metal itself. In place of the traditional approach of its predecessor Power Metal is an unbridled attack on the senses. Diamond Darrell (as he was still known) proves to be a hitherto unknown virtuoso, calling up the kind of blinding riffage and frenetic soloing he had never hinted at before. Elsewhere, Phil Anselmo, whose fondness for New Orleans’ thrash metal band Exhorder was a clear influence, adopts an even greater range than he had on his Power Metal debut. The highlight is without a doubt the seven-minute-plus Cemetery Gates, but it’s pushed all the way by the title track and Primal Concrete Sledge. A new dawn for extreme, and extremely good, heavy metal.

Suicidal Tendencies - Lights Camera Revolution

Not content with mastering punk rock and thrash metal, Suicidal Tendencies’ ethos of “anything goes” enabled them to be at the front of the queue when metal started dabbling in funkier waters. Alongside the genre-bending likes of Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Living Colour, ST mainman Mike Muir and co. chucked slap bass into the mix for 1990’s hugely successful Lights… Camera… Revolution! and delivered one of funk metal’s sharpest anthems in the shape of the evangelist-baiting Send Me Your Money in the process. And the bassist driving that sound? None other than future Metallica four-stringer Rob Trujillo.

Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss

The last studio album for drummer Dave Lombardo, until 2006, and while it offered no discernible change in direction from what had gone before, Slayer’s strength of vision was clear on Dead Skin Mask and War Ensemble

Many believed that Seasons In The Abyss was the sound of a band stuck in a rut. However, this was actually a band in a groove, knowing precisely what they should be doing, and how to deliver it.

Warfare is a recurring theme in Slayer songs, and Hallowed Point, Expendable Youth and the opening blitzkrieg War Ensemble all resonated powerfully at a time when US forces were engaged in the first Gulf War. Equally morbid were Dead Skin Mask and the title track, although the latter had some diehard fans crying ‘sell-out’. Not that anyone would have said that to Kerry King’s face. 

At a time when some were saying thrash was dead, Slayer were still brimming with ideas.

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