1991 was the year when the 1990s really got started. A-listers Metallica and Guns N’ Roses both released blockbusting albums (two in the case of the latter), while grunge broke big courtesy of Nirvana. But the metal underground was healthier than ever, with landmark albums by everyone from Cathedral and Mr Bungle to a fast-rising Brazilian band named Sepultura. These are the albums that defined those whirlwind 12 months…
Cannibal Corpse - Butchered At Birth
Noticeably uglier than their debut, Butchered At Birth saw Cannibal Corpse cement their place as death metal’s premier fiends. The grotesque artwork caused outrage across the globe, but it’s Chris Barnes’s deeper guttural grunts and the chilling production that made the likes of Covered With Sores such abhorrent highlights and set the blueprint for what followed.
Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious
British death metal has never had an easy ride, but back in the early 90s, anatomically precise ne’er-do-wells Carcass setting the deathly rulebook ablaze, outgrowing their earlier status as grindcore pioneers and imbuing their trademark sound with jolting doses of traditional metal melody and razor-sharp song structures. Bolstered by frontman Jeff Walker’s darkly witty lyrics and the blistering six-string skills of Bill Steer and Michael Amott, 1992’s Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious remains a flawless monument to ingenious heaviness.
Cathedral - Forest Of Equilibrium
“Morosely magnificent slow-motion doom,” promised the tagline, confusing many who came to the album expecting more of the same from Dorrian’s stint fronting the grindcore pioneers, or Gaz Jennings’ history in flippant thrashers Acid Reign.
But, the result of the pair's mutual doom obsession – twisted by their own forward-thinking extreme impulses – Forest Of Equilibrium remains truly a unique, pivotal recording.
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Corrosion Of Conformity – Blind
Corrosion Of Conformity had been fixtures of the hardcore and crossover scenes before they hopped the fence at the start of the 1990s. Their first album of the new decade ditched punk rock for fuzzy, stoner-tinged metal without losing any of its urgency.
One-innings-and-you're-out frontman Karl Agell belted out Dance Of The Dead and the twisting Mine Are The Eyes Of God, but it was guitarist and future Down man Pepper Keenan who took the honours, stepping up to the mike on the incendiary Vote With A Bullet – a song whose message sounds even more radical and controversial today than it did back then.
Death – Human
Hot on the heels of its predecessor, Human undoubtedly saw an exponential leap forward in innovation. With Chuck Schuldiner surrounded by the most virtuosic collection of members in the band’s history, it was no wonder this multifaceted masterpiece became Death’s best selling, and highest acclaimed album.
Accompanied by their first music video for Lack Of Comprehension, Human saw Chuck enlist ironically inhuman talents of Cynic’s Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert resulting in the band gaining a well deserved reputation as a true force to be reckoned with.
Guns N’ Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II
By their release in September 1991, both volumes of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion had become the most anticipated follow-up to a debut that our fuddled old minds can recall.
Typical of being the biggest band in the world, Guns N’ Roses went for it in a major way. Some might say too much, for the overblown nature of Use Your Illusion went some way to alienating people against the band – though that wasn't a difficult feat in Axl Rose’s case.
If the first disc showed a band ripping hard between what they were best at (bluesy hard rock) and what their singer wanted (Elton John meets Queen), the second of the two releases (AKA the blue and purple one) might not have rocked as hard, but its variety proved it had its very own spicy life.
From both volumes one could create a killer album – possibly to rival the debut – but both of these were bloody brilliant on their own.
Metallica - Metallica
With 15 million copies sold in the US alone, Metallica’s fifth album is the one that made them superstars. Not by accident, but by design.
Metallica – commonly known as ‘The Black Album’ – was a bold move, a shift from thrash metal to mainstream rock, with shorter, slower, more direct songs, and most controversially, a slick production from Bob Rock, whose previous clients included Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe.
Hardcore fans feared Metallica had sold out, but the huge riffs of Enter Sandman and Sad But True proved they’d lost none of their power, while the two rock ballads, The Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters, had genuine emotional weight. The gamble paid off.
Morbid Angel - Blessed Are The Sick
After the chaotic energy rippling through their debut album, the second album from Morbid Angel sealed their place at the head of the death metal pack.
Blessed Are The Sick showed the Tampa, Florida legends learning to bring a bit more control to their breakneck sound, but within the album's sputtering blasts, half-time crawl and Trey Azagthoth's luminous leads is a feast of death metal DNA.
Add in lashings of lustful devil worship and an intense fascination with evil and your early 90s extreme metal boxes are pretty much all ticked.
Motörhead – 1916
After the disappointment of 1987’s Rock ’N’ Roll, Motörhead were firmly back in the saddle on an album where they showed a remarkable aptitude for taking risks. The title track was unlike anything the band had ever attempted before, being a mournful ballad about the unnecessary loss of life during the First World War, while R.A.M.O.N.E.S. was a tribute to the legendary band of the same name. If Going To Brazil and The One To Sing The Blues were more in step with what was expected of Motörhead, it was the intense diversity that made 1916 so compelling..
Mr Bungle - Mr Bungle
Faith No More sounded like Abba next to Mike Patton’s other band. Their debut album was unsettling and utterly, utterly brilliant. It showed a generation of burgeoning noiseniks that heavy music didn't have to be heavy all of the time – instead it could be cinematic and expansive, it could be funny, it could be technical and non-technical, all within the same song.
Fun, offensive, dark and chaotic and a blueprint for a generation of musicians whose minds had really been opened to how experimental and agenda-setting heavy music could really be.