Welcome to 1993: a year when the world of music was in flux. Grunge swept all before it, turning Nirvana and Pearl Jam into superstars, and opening the doors for the likes of Soundgarden to follow them.
Metal may have been blindsided by this enormous sea change, but it was far from KO’d: game-changing albums from Entombed and Darkthrone showed the underground was healthier than ever, while Type O Negative and Tool showed that the genre was still capable of taking on all-comers. Here are the albums that soundtracked the year.
1. Anthrax - Sound Of White Noise
It was a radically different Anthrax that emerged on Sound Of White Noise, with a new singer in John Bush and a new sound influenced by grunge. The result was a darkly powerful album, and the band’s biggest US hit.
While Bush was a great metal singer, his gritty voice was also perfectly suited to material in an alternative rock vein. Lead single Only was described by James Hetfield as “a perfect song”. Black Lodge and This Is Not An Exit had the heavy aura of Alice In Chains, while the frantic Hy Pro Glo was a throwback to early thrash. An atypical Anthrax album, it was arguably their greatest victory.
2. Carcass - Heartwork
The gore-fixated gods of grind streamlined their sound on their penultimate 90s record. The result was the finest British extreme metal album of the decade. It was also arguably the point where melodic death metal became a cohesive idea, and Heartwork still sounds fantastic all these years later.
Every song has at least one unforgettable hook, genius riffs come thick and fast and Colin Richardson’s production was an authentic game-changer. Melodeath may have been defined by the Swedes, but it was Carcass that made its definitive statement.
3. Cathedral - Ethereal Mirror
Few have done as much for British doom and stoner as Cathedral, singer Lee Dorrian not only helping foster the scene via his label Rise Above records, but also defining its sound stylistically. Starting out in bleakest Sabbath territory, by The Ethereal Mirror Cathedral were blurring the lines between the camps as Lee Dorrian and co. introduced more fuzzy-groove into their nihilist void.
The Iommi worship is still clear and present on the chugging rumble of Ride (a song that genuinely sounds like a freight train picking up steam), but the likes of Midnight Mountain switch things up to introduce some of the 70s rock influences a la Montrose or, erm, Mountain that would later become a staple of British stoner.
4. Clutch - Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths
When Clutch released their debut album, it was far from clear where the band’s sound was heading. Early releases like the Impetus EP had as much in common with Helmet and Unsane as they did with the burgeoning stoner rock scene. That slightly grittier sound continued on Transnational Speedway League, albeit with increasing amounts of swing and swagger, not to mention instant anthem A Shogun Named Marcus: still an occasional visitor to Clutch set lists.
5. Cynic - Focus
Cynic’s central duo of guitarist/singer Paul Masdival and drummer Sean Reinert served their apprenticeship on Florida’s death metal underground, but by the time debut album Focus was released in 1993, their band had become something else entirely.
Visionary songs such as Veil Of Maya and I’m But A Wave To… melded visionary extreme metal jaggedness, proggy ryhthms and spacey jazz, marked out from what their contemporaries were up to by Masdival’s Vocodered vocals and four-string maestro Sean Malone liquid fretless bass and Chapman Stick experiments. It sounded like nothing else in 1993. Almost 30 years on, it still doesn’t.
6. Darkthrone - Under A Funeral Moon
The Norwegian black metal standardbearers' third album was dank, distorted and gloriously antisocial. Fenriz has since stated that the band were aiming to create "a pure black metal album", it seems they succeeded in turning the genre on its head and resetting the template.
Hailed by fans and connoisseurs as black metal's "ultimate manifesto", this was the genre taken back to the garage – or the cave.
7. Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for Death to outdo themselves yet again, Individual Thought Patterns includes a lineup that can truly be described as a leviathan metal powerhouse.
King Diamond’s ex-guitar extraordinaire Andy LaRoque joined a returning Steve DiGiorgio and double-kick behemoth Gene Hoglan in demonstrating a true lesson in what concrete solidity really means.
8. Eyehategod - Take As Needed For Pain
Much more than just Phil Anselmo’s drug buddies, Eyehategod were the masters of fucked-up dirge metal.
Permanently up to their necks in chaos – not just the aforementioned drug problems, but also plenty of brushes with the law – Eyehategod took the slow tempos and dark shadows of Sabbath into the darkest territory imaginable. Take in high doses or not at all.
9. Entombed - Wolverine Blues
Scandinavian death metal trailblazers Entombed nailed a distinctive sound with their first two fantastic records, but it was with 1993’s Wolverine Blues that they really decided to throw caution to the wind.
Wolverine Blues divided (and still divides) fans with its rock‘n’roll traits. Don’t let that deter you from its devilish brilliance though. From start to finish, this record is a bloody-knuckled bruiser.
You only need to listen to songs like the hellish nightmare Demon or the oozing scab Hollowman to realise that they haven’t lightened up in the mood department either. This is the one that started death‘n’roll, and over 20 years on, it is still yet to be bettered.
10. Melvins - Houdini
The album that saw the band’s transition from indie pups to fully developed major label mongrels. Well, they were now signed to Atlantic. Kurt Cobain, a big fan, co-produced six of the tracks here, although the band had to fire him for being too out of control. He also played distinctively spikey guitar on Sky Pup.
This was Melvins slightly toned down and more focused. The musical direction is a lot more defined, keeping to a sludgier feel, and there’s even a cover of Kiss’s Goin’ Blind. However, this was far from Melvins going corporate. There was still enough madcap, erm, madness to maintain the band’s reputation as rock sewer rats.