A look at the best heavy metal music of the ’90s – a decade that saw the genre’s popularity explode. We’ll countdown the top 10 albums of the decade, as well as some honorable mentions.
Best Metal Albums of the ’90s
If you’re a fan of metal music, you know that the ’90s was a great decade for the genre. There were so many great metal albums released during that time. It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are some of the best metal albums of the ’90s.
Metallica – Metallica
There are few heavier albums than Metallica’s self-titled release. Commonly referred to as “The Black Album,” Metallica saw the band move away from the speed and thrash of their earlier work in favor of a more radio-friendly sound. The result was a massive success, with the album spending four consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 and selling over 16 million copies in the U.S.
Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power
Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power is widely considered one of the best metal albums of the ’90s. The album is a tour de force of heavy metal, showcasing the band’s incredible musicianship and songwriting abilities. From the opening track, “Mouth for War,” to the unforgettable “Walk,” Vulgar Display of Power is a must-have for any fan of heavy metal.
Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss
Seasons in the Abyss is the fifth studio album by American thrash metal band Slayer, released on October 9, 1990 by Def American Recordings. The album was the band’s second to enter the Billboard 200, reaching number 28, and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on March 26, 1992. It was Slayer’s last album to feature drummer Dave Lombardo until 2006’s Christ Illusion.
The title track and “War Ensemble” were both nominated for Grammys in the category of Best Metal Performance in 1992 and 1993 respectively; “War Ensemble” won both times. In support of the album, Slayer embarked on two world tours, one with Megaforce Records grunge band Alice in Chains and another with fellow thrash metal band Megadeth.
Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction
Megadeth’s fifth studio album Countdown to Extinction was released in 1992, and is the band’s best-selling album, going double platinum. The album was a commercial success due in part to its lead single “Symphony of Destruction”, which peaked at number-two on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. Countdown to Extinction is a thrash metal album that features more melody than previous Megadeth releases, and marks a more matured sound for the band.
Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
Brazilian metal band Sepultura released their fifth album, Chaos A.D., in 1993. The album marked a change in direction for the band, who incorporated elements of groove metal into their previously thrash metal-based sound. The result was an instant classic, and Chaos A.D. is now widely considered to be one of the best metal albums of the ’90s.
Best Metal Songs of the ’90s
The ’90s was a great decade for metal music. Some of the best bands came out of this era and produced some of the best metal songs of all time. This list will go over some of the best metal songs of the ’90s.
Metallica – “Enter Sandman”
Enter Sandman is the opening track from Metallica’s self-titled fifth studio album, Metallica. The song was written by James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett. It was released as the first single from the album on July 29, 1991.
The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 16, making it the band’s highest-charting single in the United States. It peaked at number six and spent ten weeks on the chart. The song also reached number two on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number five on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. In 2009, it was named the 34th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.
Enter Sandman is one of Metallica’s most popular songs. It is regularly played live, and has been included in all of Metallica’s live albums released since 1993’s Live Shit: Binge & Purge.
Pantera – “Walk”
The Dallas, Texas-based Pantera released “Walk” as the lead single from their fifth studio album, Vulgar Display of Power. The song quickly became a fan favorite and is now considered one of the band’s signature songs. It remains one of the most popular metal songs of the ’90s, and its opening riff is instantly recognizable.
Slayer – “War Ensemble”
From thrash anthems to groove-laden death metal, the ’90s was a vintage era for heavy music. This was the decade that saw metal’s mainstream explosion, with iconic bands like Metallica, Nirvana and Pearl Jam breaking through to wider audiences.
But it wasn’t just the mainstream that prospered in the ’90s – underground scenes were also thriving, with exciting new sounds and subgenres emerging all the time. From black metal to nu-metal, there was something for everyone – and plenty of great songs to headbang along to.
So, without further ado, here are 20 of the best metal songs of the ’90s…
Slayer – “War Ensemble”
From the album Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
One of Slayer’s most famous tracks, “War Ensemble” is a brutal thrash anthem with a catchy chorus and some of guitarist Kerry King’s best riffs. It’s a perfect example of everything that made Slayer one of the most important metal bands of their generation.
Megadeth – “Symphony of Destruction”
“Symphony of Destruction” is a song by American heavy metal band Megadeth, released on July 14, 1992. The song was written by Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson and is the lead single from their fifth studio album, Countdown to Extinction (1992). “Symphony of Destruction” peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 16 on the UK Singles Chart. Along with “Skin o’ My Teeth”, the song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance at the 1993 ceremony.
Sepultura – “Refuse/Resist”
Sepultura – “Refuse/Resist”
From the album Chaos A.D. (1993)
Brazilian metal legends Sepultura were one of the few bands to successfully blend thrash and death metal in the early ’90s, and “Refuse/Resist” is one of the best examples of this sound. The song starts with a simple, driving riff that sets the stage for Max Cavalera’s feral snarls. The verses are relentless, but it’s the chorus that really makes this song stand out – a call to arms that’s as catchy as it is brutal.
Best Metal Bands of the ’90s
The ’90s was a great decade for metal music. Many bands released some of their best work during this time. Some of the best metal bands of the ’90s include Metallica, Slayer, and Pantera. Let’s take a look at some of the best metal albums of the ’90s.
There’s no question that Metallica was the biggest and most influential metal band of the ’90s. With their self-titled “Black Album,” the band began to appeal to a wider audience, selling millions of copies and earning several Grammy Awards. They followed up with “Load” and “Reload,” which saw them experimenting with a more hard rock sound. Despite some lineup changes, the band has continued to be a force in the metal world, releasing successful albums like “Death Magnetic” in 2008.
oftentimes overshadowed by the success of Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax during the Big Four thrash metal heyday of the 1980s, Pantera still managed to make their mark on the ’90s with a string of heavy metal albums that would come to be seen as classics in the genre. Formed in 1981 in Arlington, Texas, Pantera originally started out as a glam metal band before evolving into one of the most influential heavy metal bands of the ’90s.
While Pantera’s early work is certainly not held in as high esteem as their later material, there are still some fans of their first three albums –metal masses, Cowboys from Hell (1990), Vulgar Display of Power (1992), and Far Beyond Driven (1994). These albums saw Pantera abandon their glam metal roots in favor of a more aggressive sound that would help to set them apart from other bands in the genre. While Cowboys from Hell is considered to be a classic album by many fans, it was Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven that truly solidified Pantera’s place among the greats of ’90s heavy metal.
Vulgar Display of Power is often cited as one of the best heavy metal albums of all time, thanks in part to its raw and unrelenting sound. The album features some of Pantera’s most well-known songs, including “Mouth for War,” “A New Level,” and “Walk.” Far Beyond Driven debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart – a first for a heavy metal album – thanks in part to its aggressive sound and dark lyrical themes. The album features some of Pantera’s most popular songs, including “I’m Broken,” “Becoming,” and “5 Minutes Alone.”
While Pantera would go on to release two more albums –The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) and Reinventing the Steel (2000) – before officially disbanding in 2003, it was their work during the ’90s that cemented their place among the greats of heavy metal.
Slayer is an American thrash metal band formed in Huntington Park, California, in 1981. The group was founded by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman and drummer Dave Lombardo. Slayer’s fast, violent musical style made them one of the founding “big four” bands of thrash metal, alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Slayer’s current lineup comprises King, lead vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, and guitarist Gary Holt. Hanneman died in 2013, and Holt joined the band the following year.
Slayer rose to fame with their 1986 release Reign in Blood, which was credited for aligning Death Metal with Thrash Metal. It peaked at number 83 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States and spawned two singles: “Angel of Death” and “Raining Blood”. In 1987’s South of Heaven, Slayer slowed its tempo while retaining its aggressive approach. This new direction was poorly received by critics; however, the album was still a commercial success, peaking at number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States.
Slayer’s next two releases reached platinum certification: 1988’s Grammy-nominated Reign in Blood (certified 1 million copies sold), and 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss (certified 2 million copies sold). In addition to commercial success, 1992’s Divine Intervention debuted at number 8 on the Billboard 200 chart – Slayer’s highest-charting album to date – and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance (“Seasons in the Abyss”). 1993’s War at the Warfield (live album) peaked at number 23 on Billboard 200 chart – making it their highest-charting live album as well as their only live album to enter into the Billboard 200 chart.
The band has released twelve studio albums: Show No Mercy (1983); Hell Awaits (1985); Reign in Blood (1986); South of Heaven (1988); Seasons in the Abyss (1990); Divine Intervention (1992); Undisputed Attitude (1996); Diabolus in Musica (1998); God Hates Us All (2001); Christ Illusion (2006); World Painted Blood (2009), and Repentless (2015).
Formed in 1983, Megadeth is an American heavy metal band that Engages in musical styles such as speed, thrash, and power metal. The group was founded by guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson, who were later joined by drummer Chris Adler and guitarist Kiko Loureiro. Megadeth has released fifteen studio albums, six live albums, two compilations, five EPs, thirty-eight singles, ten video albums and forty-two music videos. Megadeth is known for its distinctive instrumentation and songwriting style, often incorporating complex techniques such as odd time signatures, Afghani rhythms and harmonized guitars.
The band’s lineup has changed several times over the years due to personal differences and death. After Mustaine’s firing from Metallica in 1983, he formed Megadeth with Loureiro joining in 2016. Original bassist David Ellefson has been a consistent member of the band since returning in 2010. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren joined Megadeth in 2016 after the departure of longtime drummer Shawn Drover. In the early 1990s, the band became a major metal act with their album Countdown to Extinction (1992) peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. Since then, Megadeth has sold approximately 38 million albums worldwide as of 2018.
Formed in 1984 in Brazil, Sepultura was one of the forerunners of the Brazilian metal scene. The band’s early work was characterized by a raw, primitive style that was heavily influenced by thrash metal. However, Sepultura began to experiment with different musical styles on subsequent albums, incorporating elements of death metal, groove metal, and folk music. The band achieved commercial success with their fifth album, “Chaos A.D.”, which was released in 1993. Sepultura’s later work is generally regarded as being among the best in the metal genre, and the band has been highly influential to many later metal acts.
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